When Marji Guyler-Alaniz started FarmHer, a campaign to make women in agriculture more visible, she would often point out that women account for around a third of all primary and secondary operators involved in production agriculture.
The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture indicates their numbers are becoming even more significant.
According to National Agricultural Statistical Services new report, released on April 11, male ag producers declined 1.7 percent since the last survey five years ago, while the number of female producers increased nearly 27 percent over that same time period, accounting for nearly all of the overall increase in agricultural producers (from 3.18 million to 3.4 million.)
Additionally, women defined as principle farm operators rose from 13 percent of the total to nearly 30 percent, a number Guyler-Alaniz finds particularly gratifying.
The increasing engagement by women was a rare bright spot in a report that otherwise showed the average age of farmers is still increasing (57 1/2 years nationally, as of 2017) and the overall number of farms is still on the decline (down 3.2 percent from 2012.)
For Guyler-Alaniz and others like her, however, the report felt triumphant. Thanks to their combined efforts, depictions of women in agriculture are becoming increasingly commonplace, with articles and blogs by and about agricultural women almost routine.
State agriculture departments have made an effort to highlight more women, and several of them are now being led by women ag commissioners, including the agencies in Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois. Many other women have found a voice through food and farm blogs. Organizations specifically for women in agriculture also appear to be flourishing.
While it's become an increasingly crowded space, the topic wasn't getting much attention even just a few short years ago when Guyler-Alaniz started her project, an Instagram page documenting women in agriculture as they went about their daily routines.
"This issue has been elevated, and that's a wonderful thing," she said in a recent interview. "I think it's been really good for women."
FarmHer started out as an online portrait gallery but soon grew to include a television show on RFD-TV — which is now preparing to tape its fourth season — a blog, radio show and podcast, special events and a clothing and accessories line. The brand will soon include a new show called RanchHer, focused specifically on women in the ranching community, that will run on the Cowboy Channel.
Guyler-Alaniz was inspired to take on her campaign in support of women after seeing Dodge Ram's God Made a Farmer ad, memorably narrated by Paul Harvey, during the 2013 Super Bowl. Like many in agriculture, she was inspired and moved by it, but what really hit home was an article she read a few days later pointing out its virtual absence of women.
Since then, she has traveled the country to shine a spotlight on diverse agricultural women, including several Coloradans. Her TV show has featured segments with Elin Parker Ganschow, the owner of Sangres Best Grassfed Beef in Westcliffe; Kirstin Vold, a member of a prominent Pueblo rodeo stock family; and Kate Johnson, an artisanal "cheesemakHer" from Longmont.
FarmHer also provides resources to inspire and encourage young women who are just getting started with careers in agriculture. On a recent swing through the Central Plains region, FarmHer hosted a series of inspirational workshops at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and the University of Missouri, generating participation by around 500 young women.
"I wish I'd had something like this when I was 21 and entering the industry 17 years ago," Guyler-Alaniz said. "It's easy to feel kind of invisible."
Grow by FarmHer doesn't dive deep into the nuts and bolts of things like social media platforms or podcasting, but rather offers collaboration, inspiration and networking.
"It's a place to get inspiration to run after whatever your passion or your dream is, whether it is going back to the farm or becoming a scientist," she said. "I tell women my story, but I want them to get out there and apply it to their own thing."
FarmHer also hosts a national conference called I am FarmHer, which will to held June 17-19 in Des Moines, Iowa, where Guyler-Alaniz is based. Registration is $300, and more details are available on the FarmHer website.
Guyler-Alaniz can relate to why women often need a source of support and encouragement. With her outgoing, radiant personality, she appears to be a natural on-screen, but she said at first she struggled with being comfortable in front of the camera.
"I really have to push myself to say yes to some of this, but I tell people it really is like a muscle," she said. "A lot of this is stuff I'd never done before, but I've tried to be open to opportunities as they came up."
Another challenge is staying out ahead of a digitally focused culture, which now offers so many different ways to engage with an audience. "It is an ever-evolving thing," she said.
Still, what she tends to emphasize about her own story is that by identifying a need and stepping up to fill it she found the right fit for her background and talents. Previously, she spent 12 years working in the crop insurance industry in Des Moines before stepping away from the corporate world to invest her time as a wife, mother and creative entrepreneur.
"I'm not a farmer myself," she acknowledged during the interview. "For women ag bloggers, their magic is in telling the stories of their everyday life. Our magic is in conglomerating those stories. There's not really anything else out there quite like us."
"There have been moments that fit that old saying, be careful what you ask for," she added. "I knew this was important to me and that celebrating diversity in this industry matters, but I had no idea how well it would resonate with other people beyond me."