The increase in women's farming:...


Florida food and resource economics
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Title: Florida food and resource economics
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Table of Contents
    The increase in women's farming: A response to structural change, by Christina H. Gladwin
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September-October 1985 No. 66


Christina H. Gladwin*

If we don't change our programs, we're going to see small and medium farmers go
out of business. People might say "So what?" Well, the question should be
debated whether 1000 farmers are enough. Was Jefferson right when he argued for
as wide a distribution of landownership as possible?
(Ex-Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bergland,
quoted by the Washington Post, Jan. 14, 1981)


The contribution of farm women and family labor
to the survival of the family farm in the United
States has been an Ignored aspect of farm entrepre-
neurship until recently. In many agricultural
states, however, the women's Involvement in farming
has Increased as Inflationary pressures on land,
equipment, and annual operating expenses in the
1970s forced the male, able-bodied farmer on the
small to medium-sized family farm to seek off-farm
work to support the family and subsidize the farm.
The co-managerial role of the farm woman became even
more important in the late 1970s, when part-time
farming and off-farm work became more and more
Important for the medium-sized and large farms in
the U.S. Recent data show that on average, off-farm
Income became more Important than farm Income for
medium-sized farms with gross sales of $40,000 to
$100,000; for large farms with gross sales of
$100,000 to $200,000, off-farm income became one-
third of total family income in the period from 1970
to 1982 (Zulauf, 1984).

The dependence of medium and large farms on
off-farm Income is only one of the "structural
changes" which have changed the nature of the family
farm since the 1930s. Inelastic demand for food
coupled with supply shifts due to technological

change have caused an oversupply problem in U.S.
agriculture for decades. As a result, in the
absence of an "export boom," farms have decreased in
number and increased in size. Between the years
1935 and 1974, the total number of farms in the U.S.
declined from 6.5 to 2.7 million, while the average
size of farm Increased from 140 to 400 acres.

Other, more subtle changes in the structure of
agriculture were occurring in the late 1970s,
however. Concentration In food production became so
extensive that superfarmss," defined here as farms
with at least $500,000 of gross sales, Increased
their share of net farm income from 24 percent in
1970 to 48 percent in 1982 (Zulauf, 1984). Small
farms with gross sales of less than $40,000 on the
other hand, decreased their share of net farm income
from 14.5 to 0 percent during the same time period
(Zulauf, 1984).

The present farm crisis of the 1980s, which
threatens to put between 13 and 33 percent of the
nation's farmers out of business, can only acceler-
ate the trend toward more farms with a part-time
farming head. This is because most farms at risk
(i.e., with debts amounting to over 40 percent of
their assets) are in the $50,000 to $500,000 sales

*Dr. Christina H. Gladwin is an Associate Professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department,
University of Florida, and a member of Ford Tractors' Agricultural Women's Council in 1984-85.



categories. Clearly, they are medium-sized to large
farms which usually have a full-time farming head.
Therefore, part-time farms with off-farm income are
in less financial danger than full-time farms. The
farm woman's Involvement on the farms which survive
the "shake-out" of the 1980s should therefore
increase, as more farm women substitute for their
men who are absent due to off-farm work.

Indeed, I argue that the co-managerial role of
the farm wife in the part-time farming sector must
assume a new importance If the family farm Is to
survive "the export bust" period of the 1980s and
make any Impact on the food supply system that
reaches the U.S. consumer. The entire agricultural
community (land grant university, extension service,
financial institutions, input suppliers like Ford
Tractor, local churches, and extended family mem-
bers) should recognize the growing role and contri-
bution of the farm wife as agricultural producer on
the family farm, and should give her access to
information about inputs and markets, training from
the extension service, credit, land, and new tech-
nology necessary to co-manage the farm.

What Do the Data Say?

In addition to informal evidence of farm
women's involvement as farmers as well as mothers
(such as the recent films, Country The River, and
Places in the Heart), do available data support the
hypothesis that women are now doing more of the
farming? Unfortunately, women farmers have been so
"invisible" In the past that some of the data have
been contradictory until recently. For example, the
U.S. Census of Agriculture undercounts farm wives as
operators by allowing only one family member to be
listed as "the main operator." Since most couples
list the husband as operator, the census finds only
5.4 percent of operators to be women. By contrast,
when the USDA 1980 National Farm Woman Survey asked
2,500 women by phone if they considered themselves
to be "a main operator," 55 percent answered yes
(Jones and Rosenfeld, 1981).

Evidence from North Florida

Data collected from personal interviews with
North Florida farm wives in 1981 were more in line
with the USDA phone survey. Data from Baker and
GIlchrlst Counties in Table 1 show men's and women's
contributions on four work dimensions: farm work,
off-farm work, garden work, and housework. The data
were collected (in an open-ended way) by asking
women to recall the major tasks they performed
throughout the year and the time required to com-
plete those tasks. Although this method is admit-

Table 1. Average hours/week of farm work, off-farm
work, housework, and garden work of men
and women.

Baker and Gilchrist Counties (n=48)

Men Women

Average hours/week
of farm work 34.7 21.8

Average hours/week
of off-farm work 20.2 17.4

Subtotal: 54.9 39.2

Average hours/week
of housework 1.9 26.52

Year-round total: 56.8 65.72

Average hours/week of
spring-summer garden work* 5.1 12.35

Garden-season total: 61.9 78.07

*Applies only in the 8 to 10
summer gardening season.

weeks of the spring-

tedly less accurate than time-use diaries, a prohib-
itively-expensive method, the data agree with other
estimates of the average time women spend in house-
work (Vanek, 1974).

Results show that, although North Florida men
spend more time doing farm work (35 hours per week)
and off-farm work (20 hours per week) than women,
North Florida women on average spend 22 hours per
week on farm tasks and 17 hours per week on off-farm
work. In addition, women spend 26 hours per week on
housework and during the spring-summer garden
season, an additional 12 hours per week gardening
and processing garden produce. Men therefore spend
more time farming than women; however, women's farm
hours are substantial and amount to, on average, a
part-time job. When compared to previous national
estimates of women's farm work of 11 hours per week,
as reported by time-use diaries in the 1920s and
1930s (Vanek, 1974), it appears that on average, the
North Florida farm wife is farming more now.

Also in an open-ended way, the same women were
asked about their perceptions of themselves, in
order to test the strength of the belief, "He's the
farmer, she's the helper." Results showed that 42
percent of the women considered themselves to be
farmers; while 14 percent thought of themselves as
part-time farmers. Eight percent said they were
retired from farming, and 36 percent thought of
themselves as farmers' wives. In this sample at
least, more women considered themselves to be
farmers than farmers' wives. As women participate

more in farming, they will tend to think of them-
selves as farmers rather than just helpers.

Evidence from National Time Series Data

Although the hours-of-work data from North
Florida suggest that farm women are farming more
now, it is Impossible to distinqulsh regional
variation from change over time with these data,
because the 1930s data were national rather than
Florida-specific data. Fortunately, data from the
1984 Ford Tractor Survey of 3,300 North American
farm women fill the gap, because these data are
directly comparable with the 1980 USDA survey of
2,500 U.S. farm women. Trying to verify the results
of the earlier USDA phone survey, the Ford Tractor
mail-out survey asked questions about the type and
location of the farm, the type of work the farm
woman did on a regular and occasional basis, the
kinds of decisions made jointly or separately by
farm husband and wife, and the Informational,
service, and dealership needs of the farm family
regarding farm tractors.

In the rows of Table 2 are listed the tasks on
a farm that a woman may perform on a regular basis
(column 2), an occasional basis (column 3), or
never. (Because "never" is a residual category, the
percentage of women who never perform the task is
omitted from the table, for brevity.) The data
report the 1980 USDA results on the top, and the
1984 Ford Tractor results on the bottom.

The results of both surveys show that farm
women regularly take care of the garden, do the
bookkeeping and financial work, act as chauffeur and
gofer and run for spare parts, and take care of farm
animals. A comparison of the survey results,
moreover, show that more women are regularly doing
these tasks in 1984 than in 1980. In addition, both
surveys show that occasionally, women supervise farm
work, harvest crops, make major purchases of equip-
ment, and do field work without machinery. Only
one-third of the women, however, occasionally do the
plowing or discing, and market their products. In
1984, more women are doing all these tasks on an
occasional basis. Clearly, women are very Involved
in farm work, and that involvement is increasingly

Other results of the Ford Tractor survey show,
in agreement with the USDA study, that 54 percent of
the women consider themselves one of the main
operators on the farm; while only three percent are
sole operators, and 43 percent are not operators.
In addition, data not presented here show that
women's Increased Involvement in farm tasks also
leads to an Increased participation in farm decision
making, as one would expect.

Table 2. Farm Women's Involvement in Farm Tasks.

1980 USDA Survey (n=2,500)
Percentage Responding
Regular Duty Occasionally

Taking care of Garden 74% 14%
Bookkeeping, Maintaining
Records, etc. 61 17
Running Farm Errands 47 38
Taking Care of Farm
Animals 37 29
Supervising Farm Work of
Other Family Members 24 26
Harvesting Crops 22 29
Making Major Purchases of
Farm Equipment and
Supplies 14 23
Supervising Work of
Hired Labor 11 25
Doing Field Work without
Machinery 17 25
Plowing, Discing, Culti-
vating, or Planting 11 26
Marketing Products 15 18

1984 Ford Tractor Survey
Percentage Responding
Regular Duty Occasionally

Taking care of Garden 76% 18%
Bookkeeping, Maintaining
Records, etc. 69 21
Running Farm Errands 51 45
Taking Care of Farm
Animals 44 41
Supervising Farm Work of
Other Family Members 25 46
Harvesting Crops 22 49
Making Major Purchases of
Farm Equipment and
Supplies 14 36
Supervising Work of
Hired Labor 13 43
Doing Field Work without
Machinery 13 48
Plowing, Discing, Culti-
vating, or Planting 10 37
Marketing Products 12 30


In general, the results support the hypothesis
that farm women are now doing more of the farming.
This is partly due to the fact that, more and more,
they are substituting for their spouses who must
subsidize depressed farm Incomes with off-farm

income. It may also be partly due to technological
change In domestic work within the home. Because of
modern home appliances, time spent doing housework
has decreased from 50 to 26 hours per week during
the last 50 years (Vanek, 1974). This released time
has allowed modern farm women to Increase either
their farm work or their off-farm work. Although
some women choose to spend that time off the farm,
In the North Florida sample an equal proportion of
them choose to farm. As a result, more and more
farm women think of themselves as "farmers" rather
than "farmer's wives."

What do these results Imply? If the family
farm with gross sales of less than $500,000 is to
survive structural change and concentration forces
In the 1980s, it will be as a part-time farm.
Because men now have more opportunities to secure
high-paying off-farm Jobs, more of them will be
absent from the farm, leaving the farming to the
women. The survival of the family farm thus
requires that women farmers be recognized and
supported as farmers and not Just helpers or farm-
ers' wives. While every woman wants to build a
home, the average woman's contribution of 22 hours
per week of farm work should be recognized at least
as much as her 26 hours per week of housework. The
agricultural community must realize that more women
farmers are substituting for male heads of household
who are absent due to off-farm work, and so are
taking more and more of the responsibility for the
farm. In contrast, fewer women are still working

alongside their men in the production of labor-
intensive Joint commodities like tobacco, cotton, or
vegetables, as used to be the norm.


This paper was made possible by the gracious
hospitality of Florida farm women in Baker and
Gilchrist Counties, the cooperation of John Chuchman
and Rick Kinder of Ford Tractor, the help of Dr.
Masuma Downie and Janet Weston, and funds provided
by National Science Foundation Grant BNS-8218894.


Jones, Calvin, and Rachel Rosenfeld. American Farm
Women: Findings from a National Survey. Chi-
cago, Illinois: National Opinion Research Cen-
ter. NORC Report No. 130, 1981.

Vanek, Joanne. "Time Spent in Housework." Scien-
tific American 23(5): pp. 116-120.

Zulauf, Carl R. "Changes In Selected Characteris-
tics of U.S. Farms During the 1970s and Early
1980s: An Investigation Based on Current and
Constant Dollar Sales Categories." Columbus,
Ohio: Ohio State University, Dept. of Agricul-
tural Economics and Rural Sociology, ESO 1146,

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airversity of Florida
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Gainesvile, F 32611

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