Research shows: To Increase Conservation on America’s Farms, Focus on Women Landowners

If there’s one thing working with women landowners has taught us at American Farmland Trust, it’s that they care about conservation but don’t always feel like they have a seat at the table when it comes to accessing support and resources.

This gap in services is the reason we launched our Women for the Land, or WFL, initiative several years ago with the goal of supporting the nearly one million women farm operators and over half-a-million additional women landowners who lease their land to farmers throughout the U.S.

One key strategy employed by WFL is focused on hosting Learning Circles for women landowners (both operators and non-operators) to network, share their experiences, and learn from each other and experts in the field of conservation. In addition to educational sessions and time for dialogue, Learning Circles often include an optional farm tour where the women who join us can ask questions and see first-hand what’s possible.

As we’ve hosted more and more of these circles around the country, it’s become clear to us just how powerful of a tool they can be to drive conservation on farms. It has also made understanding the Learning Circle model—how it works and why—important to the success of WFL and a baseline for ongoing expansion of the program.

A new research paper released this month contributes to this understanding by demonstrating that the successful implementation of sound farming practices and long-term sustainability are achieved through these facilitated meetings designed to create women peer-to-peer networks.

Specifically, our paper documents several reasons why learning circles resonate with women farmers. These include:

  1. The type of learning that occurs (hands on and visual) at a learning circle
  2. The networking opportunities with other women landowners
  3. The type of conservation information shared (particularly about managing with cover crops).

With the number of women landowners (both operating and non-operating) forecasted to increase in the coming years and decades, it’s clear that to achieve broader adoption of conservation practices on America’s farmland—to save the land that sustains us by the acre and by the inch—we need women in the game.

It’s a matter of bridging the gap, building confidence, providing tools, and thus empowering these women—all something our Learning Circles are primed to do.

Our new paper shows that 73% of the non-operating women landowners interviewed took action as a result of attending a Learning Circle. The top three actions they took included:

  1. Talking with their renter about implementing conservation on their lands (e.g. cover crops or rotational grazing)
  2. Implementing conservation on their land
  3. Talking with their family about what was learned at the meeting.

Read the report to learn more.