SALEM — Oregon ranks fourth in the nation for the number of farmers and ranchers who are women, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture (2017). There are 29,868 female farmers and ranchers in Oregon, representing 44% of the state’s agricultural community.
Nationally, 36% of all U.S. farmers and ranchers are female, according to the census.
To celebrate women’s contributions to Oregon agriculture — and the impact of public policy on all farm and ranch families — the Oregon Farm Bureau Women’s Advisory Council planned to host a cake-and-coffee reception for lawmakers and the general public at the state Capitol Monday, Feb. 3.
Monday also marked the start of the 2020 Oregon Legislative Short Session.
“Farm Bureau members will be at the Capitol to remind lawmakers that their decisions directly impact our ability to grow crops, raise animals, contribute to the economy, and stay viable and sustainable for the next generation,” said Janice Flegel, OFB Women’s Advisory Council chairwoman, who runs a cattle and hay ranch with her family in Crook County.
“Women play an essential role on Oregon’s farms and ranches in every capacity, as owner-operators, as bookkeepers, as mothers and as advocates for agriculture in the Legislature,” Flegel said.
Agriculture is unique in that, unlike other industries, almost every aspect of public policy affects farms and ranches, including laws involving land use, labor, water, wildlife, taxes, transportation, and many other broad categories. Agriculture is also different in that farmers and ranchers cannot simply pass along increased costs to their buyers because their product prices are set by the commodity market. Also out of their control are factors like the weather, pests, disease, and market trends.
In Oregon, female farmers and ranchers are involved in producing all of Oregon’s 225-plus agriculture commodities, from cattle, sheep and dairy cows to berries, vegetables and wine grapes to hazelnuts, grass seed and nursery products.
OFB First Vice President Angi Bailey owns Verna Jean Nursery, located outside of Portland.
“My mom Verna Jean Hale started the nursery in 1967,” Bailey said. “She was a woman who worked in agriculture her entire life, who was not bound by any preconceived notions of what she should be and certainly was not slowed down by any barriers to success. I knew from watching my mother that my gender would not be a disadvantage when I took over the nursery.”
“I’m happy to see that more women are taking the lead in farms and ranches,” said Mickey Killingsworth, Women’s Advisory Council member and owner of a sheep ranch in Jefferson County.
“Today when I go to town to make a big order of fertilizer or buy farming equipment, I don’t get asked where my husband is. It’s not so unusual to be a female farmer anymore, which is a positive for agriculture,” Killingsworth said.