Editorial: Agriculture education sees rise in women

When someone talks about farms, the image that comes to mind is a guy on a tractor or in a barn, maybe being helped by his sons.

Time to get a new picture.

A recent report shows the number of females enrolled in agricultural programs at colleges surpasses that of males nationwide. Those women will someday be among our nation's farmers.

The New York State Legislative Commission on Rural Resources reported on a study of 67 universities, undertaken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Agricultural Education System. It looked at six undergraduate programs: agricultural economics, business and management; agricultural mechanization and engineering; animal science; agricultural public services; plant sciences; and food science and technology.

The study of trends from 2004 to 2011 found the gender breakdown is shifting. From 2004 to 2007, more males were enrolled in those programs than females; then in 2008, the numbers were about even. From 2009 to 2011, the number of women in agriculture education outpaced men.

With the number of family farms declining, this is good news. Sometimes, the children of farmers aren't interested in entering this strenuous and stressful occupation. If only males are considered to take over farms, it knocks out half the population.

As with other careers, opening more opportunities for women can bring new perspective and enthusiasm to the field.

In the North Country more than anywhere else in New York, we should appreciate and celebrate our farms. Not only do they put food on our tables, but they are a mainstay of the local economy.

We need them to be successful so our economy can thrive. So elected officials need to care as much about agriculture-related legislation, grants and programs as they do about tourism and industry.

A new trend is sprouting up that can add a different component to farm operations: agriculture-related tourism.

With the growing nationwide emphasis on locally produced food, more non-farmers are becoming interested in what goes on in fields and barns.

The Press-Republican has reported on local initiatives along these lines, including farm tours that include meals served in the fields.

A number of years ago, the state made an effort to encourage property owners to spruce up their farms to earn distinction signs. That improved the appearance of a number of local farms; you can see the results in their special signs, nice landscaping and flower beds, painted barns and well-kept fields.

And some area farms, orchards and vineyards have added non-traditional attractions, such as petting zoos, musical performances, food cooperatives and cooking classes.

Local farms can become showcase, multi-purpose sites that produce food, entertain visitors and help care for our environment.

Thanks to the well-trained men and women running these operations, we have reason to be proud of our agricultural heritage.

— Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Press-Republican

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