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Oct. 31--Although agriculture is considered a male-dominated business, women have always played a prominent role in family farm operations. Today, women continue to take more leadership roles in agriculture.
"I think women are gaining more acceptance as time goes on," said Terry Gilbert, president of Kentucky Women in Agriculture. "The (agricultural) census shows there are more women who are sole owners or operators than there were 10 years ago."
But women farmers still face challenges: Equipment is built for men rather than women, and women are more prone to experience a deteriorating standard of living after retirement. According to a study conducted by Americans for Secure Retirement, women are more likely to live alone after retirement and to have saved fewer dollars and accumulated less Social Security than men.
This week, about 100 members of Kentucky Women in Agriculture will come to Owensboro to discuss ways for women to excel in farming when the organization holds its annual convention at the Executive Inn Rivermont.
The conference will include seminars on business management, new and alternative farm products, federal programs and resources available to women farmers, working with legislators and government officials, marketing and other topics.
Women farmers seem to have at least a few advantages: Gilbert said women are more willing than men to explore alternative farm enterprises.
"Women are more open to different ideas to diversify," Gilbert said. "That's making a difference in their operations."
"It seems there is a lot more interest from women to branch out and do those different things," said Jenny Inman, vice president of the organization. "It's the stuff you traditionally wouldn't think of. ... The male seems to be more comfortable continuing to do the row crops."
Kim Henken, an executive associate for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and reporter for Kentucky Women in Agriculture, said women farmers often have trouble finding resources.
"One thing for women starting an agriculture enterprise is they don't know where to go for assistance," Henken said. "Sometimes there are special programs for people who are minority business owners -- and sometimes women are considered minority business owners."
In terms of daily farm operation, Gilbert said women are confronted with a physical barrier. Some companies, however, have begun making farm equipment and tools more suitable for women farmers, Gilbert said.
In terms of leadership, women are not as well represented in farm groups as men, Gilbert said.
"If you look at the board and offices of many of those organizations, most of them are men," she said. "I think some of it could change over time: I think women are coming to realize they can join those organizations and make bids for those offices."
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