Search for Excellence in Young, Beginning, or Small Farmers/Ranchers

Katie L Wantoch
Associate Professor, Agriculture Agent
UW-Madison Division of Extension
Dunn County

Wantoch, K.L.*1,
1 Associate Professor, Agriculture Agent, UW-Madison Division of Extension, Menomonie, WI, 54751

U.S. agricultural census data indicates West Central Wisconsin (10 counties) has 3,741 farms with a female identified as a principal operator.  Research has indicated that farms operated by women are on average smaller in acres and sales when compared to farms operated by males.  These farms are more likely to have limited resources and different risk management needs compared to established farmers and commodity producers. Program objectives for women in agriculture educational programming included: Increased awareness of financial management resources and best practices and communication strategies for negotiation, conflict, farm and family stress. Increased skill/capacity building of farm financial management concepts, tools, methods and processes, and building of communication and managing conflict, farm and family stress. To expand access and provide greater opportunity to this growing population, Annie’s Project for Beginning and Women Farmers program was held over six weeks during 2019 with twelve participants. The Annie’s Project program included 24 hours of in-person instruction with interactive sessions and small group discussions. During May 2020, Extension educators and I virtually provided facilitation to the Heart of the Farm Women in Agriculture Coffee Chats program, providing connectedness and coaching with four interactive one-hour sessions to assist 39 participants in addressing questions and fears farm women may have been experiencing due to COVID-19 while mitigating social isolation through connecting with other participants. Pre/post session Annie’s Project evaluations indicated woman-to-woman learning, hands-on activities, confidence-building, and access to resources helped participants to solidify the concepts learned as they take actions to develop and incorporate the various risk management strategies and tools into their own farm business. A follow up survey illustrated all respondents have made decision, changes, and taken action steps based on the materials, resources, and tools that were provided. When asked the most important aspect of the program that they learned, respondents listed managing stress (100%), communication styles (100%), and financial statements (67%). These topics addressed the concerns expressed in the pre-program survey and were also the highest rated, in terms of quality and usefulness, during the program.  An Annie’s Project respondent noted, “Great job! Keep offering great programs like this one!