Women owning more farmland
When Sarah Lankton opened the 2012 USDA Ag Census survey that arrived in her mailbox, a question came to her mind.
Lankton, who resides in suburban Northbrook, Illinois, has never farmed or lived on a farm. But she’s a farm owner. Make no mistake about it, she knows how to track down answers.
“My journey into agriculture has helped me step into another world -- one where I have to constantly learn by reading and attending seminars,” she says.
Lankton’s network of formal and informal resources includes Pam Nelson. They met five years ago at a book club. Both enjoy books, but it was their mutual farm ownership that sealed their friendship.
“There aren’t many women farm owners here,” Nelson says. “The day I met Sarah was one of the best things that’s happened to me. We exchange information by email and discuss farm issues. It’s been a big help.”
Nancy Kayton Hansen is a generation younger than Nelson and Lankton. The Geneva, Illinois, woman has strong ties to a family farm in Iowa. She’s reaching out to other women to bridge barriers of distance and technical expertise.
“The land isn’t just an investment,” she says. “It’s part of who I am. It’s also a big responsibility. How do I manage a farm I don’t fully understand and be part of a community I don’t live in?”
These are questions that a growing number of women are asking today.
Women currently own more than half of U.S. rented farmland. An estimated 75% of the land transferred in the next two decades will go to women. A shrinking number have family tenants, and some of them are assuming management roles. The transition is under way.
Lankton began by helping her mom make decisions about their farm west of Springfield. By 1986, she and several cousins had inherited shared ownership. No one in her family was farming the land, and no one wanted to manage it.
“It was a dilemma,” she says. “My uncle said, ‘Sarah, you run the farm. You know you love it.’” Lankton, a former R.N., began immersing herself in agriculture.
“My grandpa died young, so Grandma ran the farm and raised kids,” she says. “Now I’ve had to learn about agronomy, marketing, bookkeeping, farm programs, conservation, land values, wind farms, fracking, and negotiating leases.”
Nelson is three generations removed from farming. In the early 1990s, she began helping her mom to manage their farms. Today, she and her brother own the land, which is held in trust. She handles the book work and records. “Much of what I know comes from listening to my parents talk at the dinner table when I was a kid,” Nelson says.
She keeps up by reading magazines, visiting websites, and being a member of the Illinois Corn Growers and the Illinois Soybean Association. Her leases are crop-share.
She works with farm manager Penny Lauritzen, Lanark, Illinois, on one farm. “People ask why I want to own farmland,” Nelson says. “Number one, I love it. Number two, I make money. Then I ask them, ‘How’s your stock market doing?’ ”