As part of a larger roll-out of efforts to support women in agriculture and better measure their contributions, USDA on Wednesday held a Google Hangout with Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Chief Mathematical Statistician at the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Dr. Linda Young, and photographer and founder of FARMHER, Marji Guyler-Alaniz.
The public was invited to participate through questions from the Women in Ag network email address, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. The group discussed changing perceptions of women in agriculture and their representation in media and in statistical measurements.
"My goal is to show women working in all different types of agriculture," explained Marji Guyler-Alaniz, photographer and founder of FARMHER, an organization that works to change the perceptions of women in agriculture.
"I could photograph for the rest of my life and never begin to scratch the surface of all the places and ways women are involved in agriculture," she said.
Harden explained that women face many of the same challenges that men do when operating a farm, like access to land and capital and developing an effective business plan.
"I just think they have extra hurdles sometimes," Harden said, citing examples of women farm operators having difficulty when working with vendors or lenders that may not take them seriously.
Guyler-Alaniz said part of that issue is first helping women see the value in their own contributions. "Women have not always identified themselves as the farmer," she said, explaining that sometimes women farmers don't see the important impact of the job they're doing.
Harden noted that many women have roles on the farm that they may not take full credit for, like bookwork or taxes.
"Any other kind of business, that would not be discounted," Harden said. "Women over the years have downplayed that role."
Seeing value in women's ag contributions also includes being physically counted – receiving recognition through the census, Guyler-Alaniz said.
Young explained that USDA is working on ways to use questions that are currently asked in the ag census to gather more data on women's on-farm contributions. She said this data will likely form the foundation for future programs that may benefit women in agriculture.
A special panel also has been organized to examine federal statistics on female-owned farms and beginning farmers. It will convene April 2-3, 2015, in Washington, D.C., Young said.
The public can attend the meeting on April 2, and submit comments for the public record. "As a federal statistical agency, we want to understand what information those who use the data need now and in the near future, given the roles of women and beginner farmers today," Young said.
Catch a replay of the USDA Google Hangout on women in agriculture online.