Monday, October 20, 2014

A Week of Celebrating Native #WomeninAg

IFAI Director, Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), attended a dialogue at the White House today, focusing on the future of women in agriculture. USDA, through Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and the White House, through the White House Rural Council office, sponsored the talk, inviting stakeholders from across the ag sector to participate in a dialogue about the importance of women to the future of
agricultural production. Participants were welcomed by Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Harden of USDA and Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In attendance were representatives from agribusinesses, universities, youth organizations, and nonprofit organizations, all discussing barriers women face in the ag sector, successful ongoing and past efforts to place women in the ag sector in leadership roles, and how to support future generations of young women in this crucial field. As IFAI's representative for this meeting, Janie lifted up the importance of Native women and their contributions to agriculture, both now and in the past, as well as the critical need to engage more of our young women in this space.

During the discussion, participants brought up the importance of financial literacy as well as solid estate and succession planning. The dialogue highlighted the troubling problem of the aging of the American farmer, both in and out of Indian Country, a problem that affects all farmers regardless of gender: the most recent national agriculture census data shows that the average age of all principal operators in the US is 58.3 years, while average ages for American Indian and Alaska Native operators and female operators are 55.5 and 60, respectively. Young farmers are difficult to find-- the census data's lowest participant category is for farmers 25 and younger, with only 10,714 young farmers responding. Panel participants at the White House today concluded that aggressive m
arketing is needed across genders to support all young people who wish to have careers in agriculture. Stakeholders from across the industry made suggestions about the recruitment of young women into agriculture, as well as continuing support for young men. The dialogue included a discussion about corporate stakeholders partnering with universities to create better mentoring and internship opportunities for youth, as well as corporations embedding support for young producers all along the supply chain.

Focusing specifically on Indian Country, Ken Auer of Farm Credit Council noted that the highest number of farms and ranches owned by women is in Indian Country. Auer also said that Farm Credit Council is currently looking for new and innovative ways to support Native women in agriculture.

One of the points made during today's discussion was that we need to be more intentional about elevating the honoring of dynamic women in agriculture. We're going to spend our week doing just that: we'll be posting, blogging, and tweeting about the amazing Native women in ag who inspire us-- beginning, of course, with the twenty-one incredible young women from our first class of Native Youth in Agriculture Summer Summit participants.

Discussions like this one only further remind us of the importance of programs that focus on our youth-- all of them. The future of Indian Country agriculture is theirs, and they deserve our strongest support. We need to highlight their accomplishments and imbue them with the courage to lead their communities.  You all inspire us!

Who inspires YOU? Let us know! Use #WomeninAg to join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook!

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