Between 1990 and 2010, the ratio of men to women in rural communities has risen (even as overall populations decline), according to research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. These and other shifting farm demographics can make it challenging for farmers to find partners in their rural communities. Here's a story of one rural couple that found each other, and what could be the future of dating on the farm.
My husband, Kevin, likes to tell people that he married me because I have small hands. He’s a pig farmer, specializing in show pigs. This time of year, I make sure to answer his calls, just in case one of his four-legged women needs a hand during delivery. By “a hand”, I mean one of mine.
Backing up eight years, I met Kevin at college. We both went to Michigan State University, affectionately referred to as “Moo-U”. Perpetuating the stereotype even further, he was a member of Farm House fraternity, which is where we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Our first real date? He came over on a weekend and helped me dye a junior heifer in preparation for a cattle show. He stayed for dinner, and the rest is history.
For the record, Kevin and I grew up 12 miles apart, each on a family farm. We were enrolled in separate school districts and didn’t meet until college, even though our parents were acquaintances. Agriculture isn’t all that we have in common, but it has served as a basis for our relationship. In addition to raising our own livestock, we both work in the agriculture industry; Kevin for a seed company, while I work in the animal nutrition space. Although we do our best to leave work at work, there is a level of comfort and safety that comes with being able to discuss your career with a knowledgeable companion.
That mutual understanding became clear to me this Valentine’s Day. I was out of town for a meeting with a large customer, and Kevin was home, holding down the fort and weaning this year’s litters of show pigs. My customer asked about my plans with my husband, and seemed shocked when I replied that we had none. Our version of a date this year wasn’t dinner and a movie. There was no chocolate, no bottle of wine and no bouquet of flowers. Instead, it was a late-night phone call rehashing our respective days and discussing which litters of pigs would be best suited for an online sale in a few weeks.
While I like to think that our relationship is unique in many respects, the mutual love of agriculture is not one of them. In fact, agriculture as an industry tops the list of job sectors where it is most common to have a spouse working in a similar business.
In 2015, Dan Kopf of Priceconomics reported that the Farming, Fishing and Forestry occupation group features the highest rate of within group marriage. 38% of females in that occupation group reported having a spouse that works within the same sector. From the men’s perspective, 19% of their partners also work in agriculture.
Farmers and ranchers also enjoy relationships with a higher rate of permanence than many other occupations. Based on data from the 2000 census, the national divorce rate was 10.34 per 1,000 married couples (across 511 occupations), while the rate for farmers and ranchers was 7.63 per 1,000. Even better, agricultural engineers showed the lowest rate, at 1.78 per 1,000.
Sure, once you find love you’re statistically more likely to remain married, but it’s no secret that it can be difficult to find “the right person,” especially in rural areas with low populations that are spread out over large areas.
Lucky for farmers who have been unlucky in love, technology is making the search for a soul mate just a little bit easier. FarmersOnly, an online matchmaking service, launched in 2005, and grew rapidly, reporting one million users in 2014. With the tagline, “City folks just don’t get it,” the website encourages farmers to find partnership among love-seekers from a similar background.
FarmersOnly is loaded with user testimonials, including one from Amanda T. of Slisbee, Tex. According to Amanda, “[the] website is focused on down to earth country people. We were able to connect on the things we want in life: land, animals, a family.”
Amanda certainly isn’t alone. Statistics show that we (farm folks) are more likely to marry young, more likely to marry within our career type and more likely to marry for keeps. In agriculture, we rely on a deep connection that, as Amanda put it, has the scope to include land, animals and family.
As for me, I’d trade a dozen roses for a dozen healthy piglets any day. I’d say that personal commitment – and my small hands – are why he married me. I may give up candlelit dinners in exchange for late nights in a dimly lit barn, but that’s what it takes to earn the love of a farmer.
The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.