According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, the most recent data available, women make up 30 percent of all farm operators in the United States. While the number of principal farm owners decreased slightly from the 2007 to 2012 census, the trend has gone up over the last decade, driven by a few key shifts in farming. More women today are in leadership positions in farming and agriculture. In addition, there has been a surge of women starting their own small farms, which has likely tipped the scale in women's favor when it comes to compensation.
"It's a catch-up of the past but it's also this new movement of fresh farm entrepreneurs," Lisa Kivirist, a farmer, entrepreneur and the author of "Soil Sisters, a Toolkit for Women Farmers," tells CNBC Make It. Much of the growth is in organics, small-scale localized farming that doesn't fit into traditional agriculture boxes, she says.
"Women embrace diversification on a higher level, I would say, than a male traditional farmer," says Kivirist. Women farmers are also creative, optimizing every inch of their farms, which is good for business.
"We like to have other businesses off the farm," Kivirist says, highlighting CSAs, bed and breakfasts and small crafts as examples. "Not putting all our eggs — literally — in one basket."
Marion's farm is good example. "I've added or subtracted something every year I've been farming," she says. "That's the privilege of being in a small, direct market."
Daphne Holterman, a partner at Rosy-Lane Holsteins near Watertown, Wisconsin, never thought she'd be a farmer, but she's now been at it for 30 years. In that time, Rosy-Lane Holsteins has grown from 80 cows to 950.
"I think when I was a youngster, there were not women farmers, or if there were we didn't call ourselves farmers, we called ourselves farmer's wives," Holterman says. She's worked on many parts of the farm over the years, from caring for calves to working on safety and communications. "Whatever our farm needed I just jumped in."
Holterman said that over her time farming, she's seen women farmers earn greater acceptance. There are, of course, still some spots "where it's not all roses every day," but she's glad that women are being encouraged to enter the field.
"I have three male partners," she said. "That's a challenge some days."