Groups assess organic research needs

Research needs in the organic industry are numerous and run the gamut from production to marketing, growers and others in the industry say.

To identify the industry’s top priorities, The Organic Center partnered with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to get input from farmers, industry members, researchers, policy-makers and nonprofit organizations.

A gathering last year included panels, listening sessions, breakout discussions and group activities to develop a roadmap for research to move the organic sector forward, Jessica Shade, director of science programs at The Organic Center, said in a webinar on the groups’ findings.

“Our main goal was to find common ground between the research needs of farmers, scientific expertise and then the funding interests of industry members,” she said.

The groups also explored avenues for public-private partnerships to fund research.

“Overall, the organic industry members expressed interest most in funding research that increased the domestic supply of organic food and fiber,” Amber Sciligo, assistant director of science programs at The Organic Center, said.

They were also interested in increasing consumer education and awareness and addressing consumer concerns over climate change and interest in nutrition, she said.

Several research priorities emerged. One is the availability of organic seed varieties.

Some nuances in that research included “regional breeding to accommodate the regional differences in climate and soil, etc., and also selecting for flavor and nutrition as a target for consumer preference,” she said.

Research on soil health was also an area of shared interest.

“A lot of past research has made really significant advances in supporting on-farm soil health,” she said.

But new areas of interest include systems-based research programs that connect the soil health to microbial communities, water quality, food safety, plant productivity and plant nutrition and how that would translate into human health, she said.

Another research priority was agronomic and socioeconomic research.

“The main interest within this research category was really to address the barriers that keep farmers from transitioning to organic or that prevent them from continuing to farm organically,” she said.

That research relates back to increasing domestic supply. There was a desire to focus on farm profitability to ensure organic farmer livelihoods were secure and sustainable, she said.

Climate resiliency was another priority area.

“Climate change mitigation, as well as adaptation to climate change, was identified as an area of interest across all stakeholder groups, and there was a wide range of research questions,” she said.

Those included livestock forage management, water usage and seed breeding for climate change resiliency in various regions and the role of crop diversification in protecting against losses from extreme weather changes, she said.

A lot of people were also interested in agricultural technology, mostly to improve the feasibility of organic operations, she said.

That would include precision technology to make water and nutrient usage more efficient and reduce the burden of labor-intensive tasks such as weeding, as well as making food-safety monitoring more reliable and real-time, she said.

Research on animal health and livestock integration in cropping systems was also a high priority.

The industry needs more knowledge about how organic practices, including pasture-based production, will affect things like animal health, soil health and food safety simultaneously, she said.

Organic survey delves into production, marketing practices

In addition to asking about the number of farms, acreage and sales, USDA’s 2019 Organic Survey also queried farmers about their production and marketing practices, challenges and expenses.

One thing that’s always of interest is how organic commodities are marketed, said Virginia Harris, a survey statistician with National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That could be direct to consumer through such things as farmers markets, farm stands and community supported agriculture, she said during a webinar hosted by the Organic Trade Association.

About 3,000 farms sold direct to consumers in 2019. That was 18% of all organic farms, and they sold about $300 million in organic products. Those direct to consumer sales were highest in the Western U.S., the Northeast and Southeast, she said.

More than 3,000 farms sold direct to retail markets or institutions, with sales of more than $2 billion. More than 1,000 farms sold $727 million of value-added organic products such as wine, jam and cheese.

The survey also collected data on production practices, primarily related to land use, she said.

“The most common organic production practice reported was using buffer strips or border rows to isolate organic from convention crops,” she said.

Of the 16,585 certified organic farms in 2019, almost 11,000 used buffer strips or border rows.

Almost 9,000 organic farms applied animal manure to organic land, and about 8,000 used water-management practices.

A little more than 7,500 farms planted green manures, cover crops that are plowed under to increase soil fertility. About 6,000 used no-till or minimum-till, which can reduce soil erosion. And about 5,700 produced or used organic mulch or compost, she said.

The survey also asked farmers to report economic losses due to the unintentional presence of genetically modified organisms or unapproved pesticides. Relatively few reported those losses, only 125 related to GMOs and 142 related to pesticides.

The survey also polled farmers on some expenses. Farmers reported paying their organic certifiers about $47 million in 2019.

The two largest expenses were for certified organic feed at almost $2 billion and labor at nearly $1.6 billion.

The survey also asked about major challenges.

“The most common challenge reported by the farms was regulatory in nature. One-half of farms said that this was the major production challenge for their farming operation,” she said.

Family farm finds success with produce

BUHL, Idaho — Fresh, wholesome and local are the keys to the success of Blue Rock Farms.

Owners Ty and Trenda Regehr transitioned their conventional commodity farm to produce production in 2015 and have learned a lot along the way.

“I’ve always been intrigued with produce. I thought it would be fun; I didn’t know how much work it would be,” Ty said.

In 2014, they started a small wholesale produce venture growing winter squash on 10 acres.

Unfamiliar with the wholesale business, they used a broker and saw no profit.

But it gave them an education. They expanded production and opened a retail store in nearby Twin Falls to sell the farm’s produce themselves.

“The first year, we grew every vegetable you can grow in Idaho,” Trenda said.

They still do and are always pushing their luck a little trying non-regional produce such as okra, she said.

They also grow watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries and partnered with an orchard in Fruitland, Idaho, to make fresh stone fruit available to their customers.

“The big thing is we wanted it to be transparent,” she said.

They keep the stone fruit labeled as to its origin. They also label the avocados they stock, which come from Peru.

Everything grown on the farm is started from seed, except for the seedless watermelon. The farm is set up on drip irrigation for most of the production with gravity irrigation for the sweet corn to avoid getting water on top of the plants, which could leave bacteria.

They’ve also been trying cover crops the last two years for weed suppression between rows and to keep the dirt down to have cleaner plants and cleaner produce.

The farm isn’t certified organic, but its practices are probably the same, Ty said.

They grow more than 30 different crops in succession planting, covering them to protect from frost when needed. Fresh produce is harvested May through November, and they are trying to extend the season with hoop houses and greenhouses.

“All the plants get picked every day while it’s hot,” Trenda said. Otherwise they’d end up with giant produce they can’t sell.

The produce is washed, packaged and cooled on site so it’s fresh and cool when it goes to the store — a popular outlet in Twin Falls.

The store also carries the farm’s grass-fed beef, pastured broilers and pork from non-GMO fed hogs — all USDA inspected. It also stocks dairy products from local artisan dairies, local eggs and honey and baked goods from Blue Rock’s on-farm bakery.

“The store has gotten busier and busier every year,” Trenda said.

It saw traffic of nearly 700 cars on a recent Saturday.

“There’s big demand for locally grown. People want to know where their food comes from,” she said.

This year has been particularly busy with people canning like crazy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Any produce that isn’t sold fresh daily is donated to area food banks or taken back to the farm and fed to the animals.

“There’s hardly any waste at all,” Ty said.

Between the farm and the store, they have 25 people on payroll.

“We’ve been really lucky to have good people who come back, and we try to pay them well,” Trenda said.

The Regehrs are also expanding into wholesale — without the middleman. The reputation they’ve built now has buyers coming to them.

“This year was so busy, there was hardly any extra for wholesale,” she said.

Court grants temporary stay in organic lawsuit

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has granted USDA’s motion to stay summary judgment proceedings in a lawsuit against the agency over its withdrawal of a new organic livestock rule.

USDA asked the court to grant a stay and a voluntary remand of the rule to correct a series of admitted flaws in the cost-and-benefit analysis in the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, according to court records.

Federal District Judge Rosemary Collyer granted the motion but set a deadline of 180 days for USDA to publish a final rule explaining its updated analysis to ensure timely action.

“This lawsuit represents the administrative process at its never-ending worst,” Collyer stated in her ruling.

She pointed out that USDA issued the final rule after 10 years of work, delayed implementation three times and then withdrew the rule.

The organic rule, finalized in the last days of the Obama administration in January 2017, included new standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering organic animals.

It was set to go into effect in March 2017, but implementation was delayed by an executive order from President Trump staying all pending regulations. USDA delayed implementation again in May and November of that year and withdrew the rule in March 2018.

At that time, USDA stated the rule exceeded the agency’s authority and could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.

The Organic Trade Association challenged the delays in court in September 2017, amending its complaint twice and challenging USDA’s withdrawal of the rule.

OTA filed a motion for summary judgment in October 2019 and, after two extensions, USDA was expected to file an opposition when it suddenly asked for remand, according to court documents.

OTA’s challenges to the withdrawal of the rule involve USDA’s conclusion the rule exceeded the agency’s authority and that the withdrawal rule contained errors in its economic analysis.

OTA urged the court to deny USDA’s motion for a stay and remand and address the fundamental issue of USDA’s authority.

“The court is sympathetic to OTA but rules (and cases) are best decided on a completed record,” Collyer stated in her ruling.

Any interim decision would be negated by USDA’s action in amending its reasoning, or action by USDA could render the issues moot, she said.

OTA said in a statement it welcomes the court-ordered deadline because of USDA’s willingness to drag out the rulemaking process and thwart the will of the organic industry.

The organization said it is confident the rule will be reinstated.

“At the end of the day and despite this delay, we are more confident than ever that our arguments will prevail and that the will of the industry will be served,” OTA stated.

Women in Agriculture conference set for 34 location

Washington State University Extension will again bring women in agriculture together to network and hear guest speakers offering practical advice and new skills.

This year’s conference, “Healthy Farms,” will be Jan. 25 and will focus on cultivating personal resiliency to handle all the “ups and downs” as a women farmer.

Women in 33 locations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii will use the internet to link to the main event at the Walla Walla, Wash., Legislative Building.

It is no secret that farming can be tough, whether it is caused by factors that can be controlled or that farmers try to control when they can’t, said Margaret Viebrock, WSU Douglas and Chelan County Extension director and chairman of the conference.

The stress of farming has always existed, but it soars during times of high costs and low returns, she said.

The interactive conference is designed to motivate women in agriculture to develop a self-care plan and realize the connection between a healthy person and a healthy farm. It will offer headline speakers at all locations, tailoring the conference content for each region, she said.

Last year, nearly 500 women attended.

“Many attendees reported it is the best conference for women producers because it presents practical information they can use right away,” she said.

This year’s lineup includes Brenda Mack, a third-generation farmer in Minnesota who is also a behavior and wellness professor at Bemidji State University. She will be joined by Shauna Reitmeier, a third-generation farmer who specializes in behavioral health with the Northwest Mental Health Center in Minnesota.

Together they will focus on helping women farmers strengthen their personal health care to reduce the effects of stress, worry and exhaustion.

In addition, Sue Schneider of Colorado State University Extension will teach women how to make mindful farming and personal decisions without reacting to negative thoughts, emotions and judgments.

Each location will have a local panel of women farmers who will speak on how they have developed their own self-care plan to deal with day-to-day events and make mindful decisions that helped them be successful in farming.

Gabrielle McNally, who represents the Women for the Land: American Farmland Trust’s Initiative, will explain how the initiative engages women farmers on topics of conservation, farmland preservation and land access. A partnership with the initiative can implement local peer-to-peer learning circles.

The conference is designed for women who are farming, as well as new and aspiring farmers. Supporting spouses, students, interns or people who own an agriculture-related business are also welcome.

The conference registration fee is $30 before Jan. 17 and $35 after that date. The fee includes the workshop, light breakfast, lunch and conference materials.

For details about the conference, locations and registration, visit .

Hemp attracts younger generation of farmers

Artist, sound engineer and adventure traveler Blu Fortner is adding “farmer” to his resume with his first commercial crop of hemp seed.

The Idaho native moved across the state line to Oregon five years ago in his pursuit of growing medicinal hemp.

His attraction was the plant’s potential to provide relief to people suffering from various ailments.

“I moved to Oregon because the laws here were more cannabis-friendly,” he said.

He started with a small, organic, medicinal grow but soon found there wasn’t a market for his production.

With his limited agricultural experience, he was fortunate to meet Clint Shock, a plant physiologist and agronomist. Shock, who was the director of Oregon State University’s Malheur Experiment Station, was interested in medicinal plants.

“I wanted to learn about non-cannabis medicinal plants, and he wanted to learn about hemp,” Fortner said.

It made for a good partnership, he said.

The two teamed up in a teacher-student relationship and did a four-plant, hemp test in Shock’s back yard last year. Three of the plants were successful females that produced high-level CBD oil.

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in hemp thought by many to offer numerous health benefits.

This year, Fortner and Shock planted hemp in two fields and a total of 5 acres to produce feminized hemp seed for growers. They also partnered in a new business — Medicinal Botanical Seed.

If the crop is successful, they plan to expand production next year.

At 38, Fortner is one of a growing number of “brand new farmers” drawn to agriculture by the allure of hemp, a newly legal crop that produces CBD and a variety of other products ranging from the edible seeds to clothing material. Hemp production was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Both THC — the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, which is also thought to have health benefits — and CBD found in hemp have a lot of value, he said.

“But THC is limited by state and federal regulations, and CBD is legal nationally and internationally,” he said.

He thinks younger people’s attraction to hemp farming is connected to their belief that it should be legal. But it also provides a niche for farmers who don’t have a lot of resources when it comes to land, equipment and capital.

“For farming in general, there isn’t easy access. There are almost insurmountable hurdles for young farmers,” he said.

But with demand for hemp currently higher than the supply, a small-scale farmer can grow 1 acre and make a living, he said.

Legal boom
Michael Bowman — widely known as “Mr. Hemp” — has been a driving force in the legalization of hemp production in the U.S.

He’s farmed his entire life on the eastern plains of Colorado above the declining Ogallala Aquifer. Twenty years ago, he was researching crops that would use less water than corn and alfalfa.

“The hemp plant captured my attention and imagination,” he said, listing the plant’s other environmental benefits.

That started him on a path of advocacy, and he became the founding board chairman of the National Hemp Association.

The association had a state-by-state strategy to get hemp legalized and build support for federal legalization. It resulted in progress in the 2014 Farm Bill and victory in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp research in states where its production was allowed, and the 2018 Farm Bill took hemp off the controlled substance list and redefined it as an agricultural crop.

According to Vote Hemp, a nonprofit advocacy group, 46 states have now legalized hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill also lifted restrictions on interstate commerce and lending by financial institutions and authorized crop insurance.

But the new rules guiding those issues won’t be in place until 2020, making 2019 the industry’s “teenage years,” Bowman said.

“It’s been a little awkward, but there’s been significant growth under that awkwardness, he said.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation in the U.S. has grown rapidly, according to Vote Hemp. The organization estimates 230,000 acres of hemp were planted in 2019 compared to 78,176 acres in 2018.

Moving the needle
The U.S. hemp industry is driven by CBD oil, both because of the potential profits and the current lack of infrastructure to produce other hemp products, Bowman said.

Economic models show a net return for growing hemp for CBD oil from $20,000 all the way up to $80,000 an acre for someone “who really knows what he’s doing,” he said.

“It gets a lot of farmers’ attention,” he said.

But contrary to what most people believe, it’s not an easy crop to grow for high production, he said.

“There’s certainly a community of first-timers that didn’t make any money,” he said.

There’s huge demand for hemp and CBD products, and the new legislation that legalized hemp farming has really opened up the market, Jessica Manly, communications director for National Young Farmers Coalition, said.

“I do think it’s something that’s attracting younger farmers,” she said.

From what she’s hearing, a lot of beginning farmers are becoming interested in growing hemp and some young farmers are experimenting with it on some of their land.

In addition, a lot of commodity farmers are transitioning their operations to hemp because prices are much higher than the crops they’ve been growing, she said. Many commodity crop prices have remained low in recent years.

There are some concerns, however, about regulation, permitting and interstate trade, she said.

“That’s still getting sorted out because it’s such a new industry,” she said.

There is also concern about whether this is a bubble that’s going to burst — whether demand will hold up over time or whether the market will be over-supplied, she said.

On the flip side, vegetable growers are worried about competition for land. Hemp growers might be able to pay more for land and crowd them out, which also raises a food security issue, she said.

“It’s definitely a concern,” she said.

Youthful appeal
The legalization of hemp farming has created a “hemp Wild West” that’s bringing new farmers and younger farmers into the industry, Bonny Jo Peterson, executive director of the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington, said.

She’s talked to several conventional farmers who say hemp is getting their children and grandchildren interested in farming.

Some who were looking to sell their operation because they had no interested successor now find they do have a succession plan, she said.

“Hemp is more exciting than corn or hay. A lot of millennials are jumping in full bore,” she said.

It’s something they find interesting. They see the potential hemp brings to the table when it comes to climate and the environment. On the CBD side, the attraction is its potential as an alternative medicine, she said.

The interest in hemp extends beyond the farming end of things. It’s also in processing, consulting, soils, pesticides and machinery, she said.

“Just about every aspect of agriculture is being tapped into for this new experience,” she said.

Peterson helped write the bill that fully authorized hemp production in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law last April.

The legislation spurred growth in the state’s industry from one grower with about 140 acres to more than 100 licensed businesses and about 7,000 licensed acres, she said.

The majority of those businesses are growers, and at least one-third are new farmers, she said.

Rural resurgence
Hemp is attractive for a lot of reasons, including its role in the country’s history and U.S. agriculture, Bowman, the Colorado advocate, said.

Hemp is used in more than 25,000 products, giving anyone with an imagination and an entrepreneurial spirit a “lane to swim in,” he said.

Growing crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rice is robotic, he said.

“There’s nothing to tickle the right side of the brain, everything is prescribed,” he said.

Millennials and Generations X, Y and Z have little interest in systems like that, he said.

“The point of it is … the plant has come out of prohibition, and they want to show you what can be done,” he said.

Hemp is absolutely bringing young people into agriculture, he said. Colorado, for example, is seeing a tremendous number of young people entering the field, he said.

That includes people who don’t have an agricultural background and an influx of young people coming back to the farm and rural communities, he said.

“I’m really excited about that. We are seeing a resurgence, and it’s all due to the plant,” he said.

But it’s going to take leadership to keep that momentum going, he said. People who see the opportunity, embrace it and develop policy to support it are going to do well and “create an ecosystem of bringing kids back” to agriculture, he said.

At 60, he’s about the average age of U.S. farmers today. The industry needs a younger generation to take up the reins, he said.

“This is our one chance, generational chance, to reset the clock,” he said.

Dairy Margin Coverage Program benefits small farms

USDA, American Farm Bureau and National Milk Producers Federation are all encouraging dairy producers, big and small, to take a look at the new Dairy Margin Coverage Program.

Established in the 2018 Farm Bill, the program replaces the Margin Protection Program — which most agree did not live up to expectations.

DMC is a federally subsidized program to insure dairymen’s margins between a national all-milk price and a national feed-cost calculation. Sign-up began June 17 and is open until Sept. 20.

While the program is geared for producers with 200 cows or fewer — producing 5 million pounds of milk or less annually — it can offer some benefit for larger producers.

USDA is projecting an indemnity payment of about $24,000 this year on a producer’s first 5 million pounds of annual production history insured at a $9.50 margin at a cost of $7,600.

That is likely to attract interest from larger producers who lost faith in MPP after paying substantial premiums and seeing little to no payout despite dismal margins.

Joaquin Contente, who milks 850 cows in Hanford, Calif., said MPP was a “miserable failure” but he’s going to sign up 5 million pounds of his production at the $9.50 margin level.

“It’s going to give me a little bit of insurance. The market is so cyclical, I should get something out of it,” he said.

Indemnity payments on the first 5 million pounds at the $9.50 coverage level have already been determined for the first four months of 2019. As of June 20, USDA is forecasting the program’s calculated margin will only rise above $9.50 in October and November.

Contente won’t be purchasing buy-up coverage above the no-cost, $4 insured margin for the remainder of his production, however.

DMC is an improvement over MPP, but it’s just not geared for larger producers, he said.

About 94% of California dairy farmers produce more than 5 million pounds annually, according to data from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

That number is close to 80% in Idaho, 60% in Washington and 72% in Oregon, according to state dairy organizations.

“The last four years have been really rough for dairy farmers across the country,” Tami Kerr, executive director of Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said.

Oregon producers will definitely be looking at new tools available to see if they make sense for them, and they are aware that DMC offers a positive return for 2019, she said.

“They’re very astute when it comes to their finances,” she said.

DMC seems to fix some of the problems that existed in MPP, making it a better and more attractive product for farmers, Scott Dilley, communications director for Washington State Dairy Federation, said.

“I’m sure our producers will take a close look at DMC to see if it will work for their operations. We are hopeful that DMC will provide the type and amount of coverage that our dairy farmers would like and need,” he said.

Western United Dairymen isn’t hearing a lot of interest from producers in California, but sign-up is just starting, Annie AcMoody, WUD director of economic analysis, said.

Rick Naerebout, CEO of Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said he suspects there is interest in DMC among IDA members but Idaho producers typically rely pretty heavily on hedging programs for risk management.

U.S. organic sales top $50 billion

The U.S. organic market hit a record $52.5 billion in 2018, up 6.3% from the previous year and breaking through the $50 billion mark for the first time.

New records were made in both food and nonfood categories. Organic foods sales at $47.9 billion increased 5.9% year over year, and organic non-food sales jumped 10.6% to $4.6 billion, according to the 2019 Organic Industry Survey released May 17.

Almost 6% of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, and growth in the organic sector continued to outpace gains in overall food and comparable nonfood sales in 2018.

Total food sales in the U.S. increased 2.3% and nonfood sales rose 3.7%, according to the Organic Trade Association, which commissioned the survey performed by Nutrition Business Journal.

“Organic is now considered mainstream,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA, said.

Organic products can be found in every aisle of the grocery store and in box stores, club warehouse and convenience stores and are increasingly available on the internet she said.

The organic seal is gaining new appeal as consumers realize not only that certification is monitored and supported by official standards but it’s the only seal that encompasses the spectrum of non-GMO and free of pesticides, chemicals, dyes and preservatives, she said.

The survey found sales of organic fruits and vegetables, which now account for 36.3% of all organic food sales, grew 5.6% to $17.4 billion in 2018. Organic represented nearly 15% of all produce sold in the U.S., nearly doubling market share in the last 10 years.

Sales of organic dairy and eggs, the second-largest organic sector, were $6.5 billion. Those sales increased just 0.8% due to slower dairy sales. Organic egg sales, however, increased 9.3% to $858 million.

The strongest growth in the organic nonfood sector came from fiber, which accounts for 40 percent of the organic nonfood market. Organic fiber sales in 2018 increased 12.5% to $1.8 billion.

Women farmers better represented in Census of Ag

GOODING, Idaho — When Stacie Ballard signed on with a local processor in 1995 to sell milk from her fledgling dairy, the company put the contract in her husband’s name — even though he was working full-time off the farm as a diesel mechanic.When she tried to get the paperwork changed, she was told her husband would have to do it. His name also came first on a business loan for the dairy.

“I was the one milking the cows,” she said, still incredulous.

Wanting a fresh herd, she had started with 23 springers she obtained through the American Jersey Cattle Association. Those springers started calving two to three weeks later.

She milked, fed and tended the cows alone for the first eight years, albeit with help from the couple’s three children. Her husband, Steve, didn’t come into the operation full-time until 2001.

It wasn’t all that long ago, either, that anyone coming to the dairy on business and wanting to talk with the boss assumed the person in charge was a man.

Women have always been part of most farming operations as partners, sharing the workload and helping make decisions. Farmers recognize that, but agriculture is still perceived as a man’s world — by the public and the industry, she said.

“People assume men are running the farm,” she said.

But the reality is women have just as much involvement on the farm as men, she said.

A better picture
Ballard wasn’t the only one struck by the incongruity. USDA was also concerned that women, as well as younger farmers, were underrepresented in the Census of Agriculture — a survey of producers taken every five years by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

After each census, USDA solicits feedback from stakeholders. Input after the 2012 census led to changes in the census questionnaire to better capture the roles people might play on the operation — particularly the involvement of women and younger people, said Ginger Harris, a NASS statistician and demographer.

“It’s important to know who those people are so (USDA) programs can be targeted across whole communities and reflect the roles of all people,” she said.

The 2017 census added questions about who the decision-makers were in different areas of the operation and allowed respondents to identify additional producers and principal producers (those making decisions) on their operation, she said.

That led to a 6.9% increase in the number of all producers and a 26.6% increase in the number of female producers compared to 2012, she said.

In addition, the changes led to an increase of nearly 70% in USDA’s calculation of the number of female primary producers. Among female producers, 65% identified as a principal producer and nearly 40% were reported as the primary producer on the operation.

USDA defines a principal producer as a senior partner in a farm. There can be several principal producers on any given farm. The primary producer is defined as the person making the most decisions for that farm.

In the bigger picture, women represented 36% of all producers in 2017 compared to 30% in 2012. They also represented 24% of all primary producers compared to 14% in 2012.

Changing the count
Doris Mold, immediate past president of American Agri-Women, served on two expert panels guiding the changes to the census questionnaire.

“We knew there were a lot more women farming,” she said, they just weren’t being counted.

Some of it was cultural, with women who were involved in bookkeeping and marketing not claiming the farmer hat. The panel’s recommendation was to open up the demographic section and add questions to capture shared decision-making and management, Mold said.

That ultimately affected the number of women reporting involvement. While the number of women in agriculture is increasing overall, the census results more reflect that women who have been involved all along are also being counted, she said.

“It’s pretty exciting … we are finally getting the acknowledgement that women have played a role,” Mold said.

It also shows women producers are becoming more confident, considering themselves a farmer and not just a “farm wife,” she said.

“I think women have always played an important role. … That role has not always been recognized,” she said.

The recognition in the latest census is “tremendous,” Mold said.

For a long time, the census didn’t count gender at all, she said.

The census began in 1840 and was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau until it was shifted to USDA in 1997. It didn’t include a question about the gender of farm operators until 1978.

The important take-away from the latest census is it’s important to count everybody. It gives more information on who’s involved, what they contribute and what their needs might be. Hopefully, that influences agricultural organizations, their boards of directors and how other aspects are designed, she said.

“In general, there are gender differences as far as the skills women bring to the table in all careers” and they need to be taken into account, she said.

In a wider sense, more women are becoming involved in agriculture, and their role is changing. More are studying agricultural curriculums and going into careers in science and technology, Mold said.

A driving force
The higher number of female producers in the latest census is likely a combination of better questions and more women being involved in farming, said Mandy Minick, Washington state president of Northwest Farm Credit Services.

“Farm families have been a two-person operation for a long time,” she said.

In that regard, the census is just capturing the real traditional picture. But now with the younger generation coming back to the farm, there are as many daughters as sons taking over the operation, she said.

The farming business has gotten more complex, and more unique managers are needed. It’s great that the census changed to better measure what’s really going on in operations, she said.

Many women are good at relationships and working with people, and they are involved in all aspects of the business — human resources, employee relationships, financials, marketing and distributing, she said.

“Women are very good at taking care of aspects like that. I think that women are very good at seeing how all the pieces fit together. They have a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not,” she said.

Many are also meticulous and detail-oriented and bring good skills to bookkeeping and financial management, she said.

They are also running whole operations, especially local food operations and urban farms. They are studying more traditionally male types of disciplines such as animal husbandry and range management, she said.

Regardless of the size of operation, what’s produced or the location, there’s a real surge in women being part of production, lending and supply and inputs, she said.

It’s about teamwork
It’s all about teamwork at the Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese, which has grown its herd to 106 cows. Steve is now in charge of the animals, son Travis calls the shots in cheesemaking and Stacie is CFO — handling everything else.

Her responsibilities include banking, loans, taxes, compliance, invoices, vendors, marketing, workers compensation and payroll.

“I tend to be the paperwork pusher,” she said.

Everyone has individual responsibilities, but everything is discussed and the three come to a mutual decision — although there’s been a time or two when she’s insisted on a certain conclusion.

“I think women always have brought different priorities and perspectives to decision-making. I think we’re always trying to do a balance, trying to look at all sides,” she said.

Women have always been involved on the farm, and it’s good that the census is getting a better picture of what’s been going on for years, she said.

But “I still think society is way behind on what women do. The industry and society still give the man the pat on the back,” she said.

Steve is involved in state and national dairy organizations and travels a lot for the dairy industry. He’s normally only at the dairy on weekends, she said.

“But people assume it’s his dairy,” she said.

Herbal interest turns into full-time business

BUHL, Idaho — Just like a puzzle, all the pieces in Mickey Young’s life fit with him becoming an equine and canine herbalist. But also just like a puzzle, it was hard to see the big picture until the pieces interlocked.

Today, that picture is a successful business promoting the health of horses and dogs through herbal nutrition.

But the story started even before Young was born.

His father, LaVern, grew up in Utah, picking up tips on doctoring animals with medicinal herbs from the Navajos who lived in the area. He later had a career with Bureau of Land Management as a range rider and wild horse and burro specialist, learning more about the plants those animals chose to graze.

Young’s mother, Ruth, was a successful naturopath at a time when naturopathy was little known.

“I learned some from each of them,” Young said.

And as a professional cowboy, champion bareback rider and stock contractor for the National Finals Rodeo, Young knew horses and the dogs that are inevitably a cowboy’s companion.

His parents moved to Idaho, where Young had settled during his rodeo days and opened a health store. His mother helped people with herbs and when they asked for help with their horses or dogs, she’d send them to Young.

“It grew from there, but it didn’t happen overnight,” Young said.

After selling his rodeo stock company, he was looking for something he could do to make a living.

“I had done the herb thing for many years, but I didn’t know there was a living in it,” he said.

A chance meeting with Heather Mack, a veterinarian who practices holistic horse health, would change his way of thinking.

Mack was impressed with the health of Young’s horses and started referring clients to him for his herbal mixtures. That gave Young the confidence to start telling people about the benefits of herbs.

Later, Mack started carrying his mixtures and was his first large, consistent client.

Word spread quickly due to the quality of the herbs and the effectiveness of Young’s formulas. Everything from wounds and digestive issues to kidney and liver ailments seemed to benefit from the herbs, Young said.

He and his wife, Lori, officially started Silver Lining Herbs 20 years ago.

Back then, “people weren’t that accepting of herbs for horses. It was a hard sale, but Mick started educating people,” Lori said.

The business went from mixing herbs in his mother’s shop to outgrowing a basement, then a garage and then a large shop to building a commercial facility.

It kind of started by accident but grew little by little into a full-grown business, Lori said.

Silver Lining Herbs produces about 30 herbal combinations for horses and 20 for dogs, ranging from daily health maintenance and early wormer to joint and lymphatic support. The company uses 80 to 100 different ingredients, sourced from five main suppliers in North America, Chance Schuknecht, the company’s sales and marketing manager, said.

The company has strict quality-control practices and is audited by the National Animal Supplement Council, which has awarded the business its Quality Seal.

The formulas are meant to provide the variety of healthful vegetation horses and dogs had when they could range freely to improve their quality of life, he said.

Young said his goal is to help as many horses and dogs as possible.

“There’re a lot out there that need it, and owners don’t know it,” he said.

He knows of cases where a horse or dog was euthanized because the practitioner or the owner didn’t think a problem could be fixed. In many cases, herbs are the answer, he said.

“I have seen what people would call miracles (using herbs) many years now,” he said.

And he hears it all the time from his customers — animals in advanced stages of illness completely recovering with herbs, he said.

“It’s pretty cool when you see it happen, and it happens a lot,” he said.

Silver Lining Herbs has hundreds of testimonials, but is unable to print them or advertise with them under Food and Drug Administration regulations, he said.

“I’ll always be an advocate for what it does. We’re all pretty passionate about this at Silver Lining,” he said.

Unfortunately, people have lost a lot of the knowledge they had before modern medicine, but it’s pretty hard to improve on nature, he said.

“God put everything we needed here; all we have to do is access it,” he said.