Women lead a farming revolution in Iowa
As wives inherit husbands’ farmland, they stress conservation over maximizing profit.
By Mark Clayton Source: The Christian Science Monitor
Posted by Elizabeth Fiend
Mount Vernon, Iowa
Women own nearly half of Iowa’s farmland. But they find they have a common problem: The men they hire to farm their land often don’t treat it with the tender care they expect – and often won’t listen when they complain about it.
Women from three counties near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, discovered the shared view in a series of meetings on “Women Caring for the Land.” Dozens have turned out to learn more about farmland conservation – and to share tales of dealing with their tenant farmers.
Margaret Doermann’s Iowa farm has some of the richest soil in the state, which is why she insists it be farmed the way her husband did, using strong conservation practices to preserve it. So it was a shock to discover the tenant farmer she’d hired after her husband’s passing was treating her land like, well – a rental property.
“I was awakened in the middle of the night by a tractor tilling the hillside,” Mrs. Doermann says. Her husband “had always tilled it in a contour [across the hillside] to limit erosion. But when I went out the next morning, that hill had been tilled up and down so the soil would wash right off.”
Doermann’s rude awakening didn’t end there. The water in the stream near the field looked like “brown gravy” – full of soil runoff from the hillside. She and her daughter wound up in a lawyer’s office arguing with the farmer over how to till the hillside. A new lease now specifies the soil preparation she wants.
“Well, you know what?” Doermann said to three women at a small gathering of farm-land owning women last month. “The very next spring, he did it again.”
Doermann’s experience is hardly unique, experts say. Of Iowa’s 30.7 million farm acres, 47 percent are owned by women. But a growing share – 20 percent – is now owned by single women, many of them older, with a far different take on farming than their male counterparts. About three-quarters of the land owned by single women is rented out to mostly male tenant farmers.