Addressing unequal pay for women in agriculture

Today is Equal Pay Day and American Farmland Trust is raising awareness about women in agriculture being paid less than their male counterparts.

Gabrielle RoeschMcNally, director of AFT’s Women for the Land Initiative, says recent data shows than farms principally operated by men are making 151 percent more profit than those operated by women.

“Regardless of how you cut the numbers, the trend is still the same: women are making less and that’s true even when we’re holding things constant in terms of type of operation and scale,” she says. “We do find that women often have fewer capital assets that are supporting their operations, whether that’s land or machinery or other things that are supporting the success of their farm. Women are assessing loans and capital to support their business less including government grants. They’re not applying at the same rate for state conservation programs, for example. We know there are a lot of these sort of layers to the inequity and how that’s manifesting on women-run farms.”

In a recent blog, American Farmland Trust said women-led farms are more likely to face challenges reaching economies of scale that help their farms and ranches be economically secure. And if those operations are smaller, they could receive less support from federal farm programs in the form of direct payments, crop insurance, conservation support, and more.

Analysis by the organization and interviews with key stakeholders found that risk aversion, land tenure barriers, internalized sexism, and bias in agricultural institutions contribute to the pay disparities.

“Some literature and interviews show women tend to be more risk adverse particularly when it comes to taking on debt. In certain places in agriculture, taking on significant debt is part of the operation or part of the expectation but it can limit your choices and the scale of your operation. I think some of that is that women haven’t been supported and empowered to navigate those kinds of lending opportunities in the same ways their male counterparts have. There’s also, because we tend to operate on the margins, more concern about taking the next level of risk,” RoeschMcNally says.

“We know there are land tenure barriers and that exists for so many folks in agriculture, particularly women, women of color, and farmers of color accessing that next generation of land. It’s become more expensive and more difficult for the next generation of farmers to access farmland particularly if they’re doing it outside of the family or an untraditional farm succession or inheritance. We find anecdotally that women are not always the ones in the line of succession for farmland or ranchland. We see bias come up in agricultural institutions from local feed suppliers to USDA offices. Consistently in the women we work with, both through interviews and events we have, they discuss going in to apply for a loan and are asked, ‘where’s your husband, father, or grandfather etc.’ This presumption that they’re not where they should be does have an internal effect of women feeling like these aren’t places they can get the support or resources they need. There’s a lots of intersections of how and why women are accessing resources less. It’s important to note that women of color face a lot of those barriers at a higher rate for a lot of the same trends that tend to be even harder for them to overcome in terms of accessing resources,” she says.

American Farmland Trust has a call to action tohelp remove barriers for women in agriculture.

RoeschMcNally tells Brownfield that includes exploring ways to bolster affordable and accessible childcare and healthcare.  

“Fundamental issues related to the health and well-being of their family is paramount to the success of their farms so more and more we’re encouraging people to think about things like accessible childcare and healthcare. How can we support rural communities to have those amenities and resources because that is a stumbling block for all farming families, but particularly for women,” she says.

Other action items include: follow and support organizations emphasizing developing women leaders in agriculture; financially support organization, farms, and businesses that women and women of color run; and know who your representatives are and where they stand on issues that matter to you. 

Equal Pay Day is March 14. The date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what mean earned in the previous year.

“It’s a reminder that we really believe here at AFT and across the agricultural world that this inequality is absolutely impacting the viability of our farms, but it’s also threatening our ability to address things like climate change, food security, rural livelihoods, and sustaining of our farms into the future so that they’re viable enterprises to meet the needs of food security and climate change,” she says. “To me, these issues aren’t disconnected from those issues. If you care about agriculture and farming and sustaining that way of life for all people involved, then you should care about equity. Because we know the more equitable any industry is, the better off it makes everybody.”

For more information visit

Audio: Gabrielle RoeschMcNally

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