Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.