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Federal census better recognizes Wisconsin’s female farmers



MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The number of female producers on Wisconsin farms increased by 16% between 2012 and 2017, according to the latest census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The federal agency, which released the 2017 Census of Agriculture earlier this month, counted 38,509 female producers on Wisconsin farms two years ago, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. Female producers account for 35% of all producers in the state, according to the data.

Greg Bussler, the agency’s statistician for Wisconsin, attributed the increase in female producers in part to changes made to the survey after the last census in 2012.

The USDA’s statistics branch received feedback from the 2012 census that the agency needs “to reconsider the demographics section to better capture those that are involved with a farming operation,” Bussler said.

The 2017 census was modified to incorporate new data about demographics and the role of producers in making decisions on farms. The recent survey also allowed more producers to be counted per farm and more than one producer to be listed as a principal operator.

About 56% of Wisconsin’s nearly 64,800 farms had a female producer and 35% listed women as a principal producer, according to the 2017 census. Women were classified as the primary producer, or the individual making most of the decisions, on 20% of the state’s farms, the survey shows.

“We were better able to get at who was involved with the decision-making on the farm, and I just think with the changes that are going on on farms and so on, more women are involved with agriculture,” Bussler said.

Lisa Kivirist, coordinator of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s female farmer network, said women have always been leaders on Wisconsin farmers, but they’re often not counted as decision-makers.

She said it’s important for women to be accurately counted because the census influences federal lawmakers, who allocate funding for farm programs.

“What is new and extremely important is that we are being recognized from a data perspective, which goes to an economic perspective and a political perspective and policy perspective,” Kivirist said.

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