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Women Farmers on the Rise

More women choosing to work the land and raise livestock

Robin Dunn has some big boots to fill. She's the fourth generation of her family to farm some 1,000 acres at Dunn's Landing in Wellsville, Kan.

See also: Author Catherine Friend talks about farming and self-discovery.

Now 53, Dunn bought her great-grandparents' homestead from her father in 1990, and today grows soybeans, corn, sorghum and hay, and maintains a small herd of black Angus cattle and eight horses.

"It's hard work. You have to love it, or you wouldn't do it," she says.

Women run roughly 14 percent of 3.3 million American farms

Robin Dunn of Wellsville, Kan., is one of a growing number of women farmers. — Daryl Peveto/LUCEO

While the vast majority of American farmers are white males, Dunn is part of a growing number of women who are running farms that they have inherited or taken over from aging parents or deceased spouses. Their average age is 59.

Women primarily ran more than 306,000 farms in 2007, representing about 14 percent of the nation's 2.2 million farms run by a single person making the everyday decisions, according to the most recent Department of Agriculture data. That's up from 237,819, or 11 percent, in 2002, and nearly triple the 5 percent of farms that women operated in 1982.

"Women are gaining recognition for their important role in the farming industry," says Marsha Purcell of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Breaking the mold

Most female-owned farms are small and diversified, according to the Department of Agriculture. The average size of their farms is 210 acres, less than half the size of a male-owned farm. The government also reports they are more likely to raise fruits and vegetables, organic crops or small cattle herds as opposed to larger grain and cattle farms that men tend to run.

Dunn, whose business has revenue of about $150,000 a year, says farming has been in her blood since childhood. She takes her own crops to the local elevators and sells them on the futures market.

"It's not as easy as it used to be when you hauled your crops to town and just sold them," says Dunn, who is single.

She has branched out from raising crops, using her century-old dairy barn to host 25 to 30 weddings and other events a year. She also attracts tourists for farm tours and carriage rides, and holds sessions with schoolchildren to teach them about agriculture.

Next: Getting the family involved. >>

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