By editorial board • 

Women on the move in state and local farming

Agriculture is big business in Oregon.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, updating the 2012 census, the state boasts about 37,000 farms cultivating 225 different crops on 16 million acres. In the process, it employs 325,000 workers producing $5 billion in annual market value.

Yamhill County shares in the bounty, ranking fifth in number of farms at 2,138 and sixth in annual market value of the resulting production at $314 million, up from $281 million in the 2012 census. It has retained its rural roots to a much greater extent than its neighboring counties to the north and east.

But perhaps one of the more striking figures is the growing gender balance down on the farm. And it is showing up at both the state and local levels.

According to the census, women now account for 40 percent of farmers and 43 of principal producers in Oregon agriculture. It indicates they are generating an annual economic impact of $263 million on 7.3 million acres, accounting for 45 percent of Oregon’s total tilled acreage.

The number of women classified as principal producers, based on playing lead administrative roles, has shot up 31.2 percent in just five years, according to the new census. While men continue to supply the lion’s share of labor in the field, it suggests women are increasingly moving into sales, finance and administrative roles.

Only four Oregon counties — vastly more populous Lane, Marion, Clackamas and Jackson — boast more women serving as principal producers than Yamhill. More than 60,000 of Yamhill County’s 169,000 tilled acres are being managed principally by women, according to the census.

Agriculture has come under corporate domination in much of the Midwest. However, it remains largely a family operation here.

Sole proprietorships and partnerships account for more than 90 percent or total farm ownership in Oregon, the census shows. Corporate, cooperative and institutional combined account for less than 10 percent.

That holds true in Yamhill County as well. Regardless of the crop, be it hazelnuts, grass seed, Christmas trees or wine grapes, husband and wife teams are increasingly coming to serve as equal partners in local operations.

We see that as a good thing.

To compete effectively with corporate operations, which benefit from economy of scale, family farms have to squeeze out every ounce of efficiency they can. So it only makes sense to see them dividing the labor on a more equal basis.

Over the course of recent decades, women have been moving into the workforce in ever-bigger numbers. And they have been increasingly making their presence felt in traditionally male-dominated fields.

There’s no reason agriculture should be the exception. Women can and are increasingly mastering the intricacies of crop and livestock management.

Locally, the infusion of women into the upper ranks is particularly evident in vineyard and winery operations. It has become increasingly common to find women overseeing sales, marketing, finance or production, or entering the ranks of partners or sole proprietors.

Pioneers like Susan Sokol Blosser were once anomalies in the vineyard. But no longer.

Can grass seed farms and hazelnut orchards be far behind?

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