Shayla Hyde

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017

An Arizona dairy woman grows appreciation for female farmers

BUCKEYE — Sine Kerr cultivated her love for farming as a girl in rural Buckeye, participating in her local 4-H group and playing at friends’ houses whose families had farms and ranches.

“At the age of 18 I became a farmer,” Kerr said, marrying Buckeye dairyman Bill Kerr.

About 45 percent of the farmers in Arizona are women, making it the state with the highest proportion of women farmers in a declining industry, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture .

Kerr, now 56, chairs the women’s leadership committee of the Arizona Farm Bureau, promoting agriculture and her experience as a female farmer.  

“Ag needs a voice,” Kerr said.

(Graphic by Shayla Hyde/Cronkite News)

Rise and fall of farming in U.S.

Farming is on the decline across the country, dropping about four percent from 2007 to 2012 . Women farmers decreased two percent in that same period, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Women farmers are typically part of a family operation, even working part-time while holding down other jobs, according to Sherry Saylor, who chairs the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership program .

Saylor, also a member of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said corporations are buying smaller farms whose owners could not afford to stay in business, shrinking the number of farms across the country. According to the Arizona Farm Bureau, farmers and ranchers make up two percent of the nation’s population .

Saylor said the opening of niche markets and smaller crops such as micro greens in the West and rise in the demand for locally grown food products may account for the high numbers of women farmers in Colorado, Arizona and Texas, which has the highest number of women farmers. And the rise in Arizona farmers markets allows for smaller crops and specialty items to be grown and sold in a local setting, she said.

According to Kerr, there is also a large percentage of women farmers on the Navajo Nation reservation.

(Graphic by Shayla Hyde/Cronkite News)

Saylor said the Arizona Farm Bureau conducted a focus group to gauge how consumers view women farmers. The group said they trusted women and could relate to them better than men.

“For women, I think it’s time to embrace that,” Saylor said. As about 90 percent of farms in the U.S. are family-owned and operated, Saylor said she and other women farmers need to take a vested interest in their business and how consumers view it.

“It’s your livelihood,” Saylor said.

“Farming is such an attractive livelihood,” Sine Kerr said. “Women relate to women. We have a great opportunity to get that message out there.”