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'Social support' for women landowners

Half of all the farmland in Iowa is owned by women. And there's a group to help support those women and their specific needs as farm stakeholders.

Women, Land and Legacy (WLL) is a project that, according to the Iowa State University (ISU) Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, provides the type of "social support" important to the business of the more than 1,500 women who own farmland in Iowa. That includes "empowering women in their farm's management." In other words, making women feel comfortable navigating a business environment that's historically dominated by men.

"Social support is essential to the risk management strategies that women use to understand and validate their experiences, gather information and gain confidence. Our work with women landowners needs to strengthen the connections women have to each other, the land, their families, and the providers of resources that are available to them," says Lois Wright Morton, interim director for the Leopold Center and ISU sociology professor.

“Women play a very important role in directing the conservation stewardship on their own land and they are change agents of future conservation stewardship activities on Iowa farmland,” says USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state conservationist for Iowa, Richard Sims, who's a member of the Iowa WLL state team.

A secondary benefit of WLL programs was the confidence among participants that led them to leadership opportunities. Participants reported that they were taking on new roles by serving on community-based committees, boards, civic organizations, producer associations and other assorted groups. They also reported a local change in attitudes, specifically, a new respect for their involvement in community affairs and farming.

"FSA is supportive of the leadership that women contribute to today’s American agriculture and this outreach project certainly has had a positive impact," says John Whitaker, state executive director of the Iowa Farm Service Agency, in a Leopold Center report. "Our agency has seen more women involved in their local county committee elections process as well as seeing more women making decisions for their farms. This leadership needs to continue to develop, so that these positive impacts and others can continue to help improve our land as well as rural communities."

Members of the WLL state team are Bregendahl; Beth Grabau, FSA public relations and outreach specialist; Tanya Meyer-Dideriksen, coordinator of the Iowa Valley RC&D; Tricia Mootz, NRCS human resources specialist; and Carol Richardson-Smith, process design consultant from Perry.

To reach the full report, and for more information about Women, Land and Legacy, go to the group's website.

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