Women in Farming | International Women’s Day
Ask someone to describe a farmer and we would wager good money that the description would include wellies, a checked shirt and them being a ‘he’. On the first International Women’s Day of the 2020s, we at Acres Insurance Brokers wanted to find out whether that was an old-fashioned stereotype or a fair reflection of the farming industry.
For those viewing farming from the outside, through Countryfile or Born Mucky: Life on the Farm tinted glasses, it is easy to think that farming is a traditional, steady and conservative industry. Those in the know are aware that it is forward-thinking, innovative, technological and modern.
With farms and agricultural industries finding recruitment hard, it is no wonder that The Farmers’ Guardian’s #ThisIsAgriculture campaign booklet, published this week, poses the question ‘Think you know agriculture? Think again’.
In 2019, 17% of farmers were female, up from 7% in 2007-8 and around 1/3 of the wider agricultural workforce are female. Is the answer to staff shortages in the agricultural world to make it more appealing to young women?
Kirsty Barden, Business Development Manager at MDS Ltd, certainly believes it is. As an all-female staff and with 52% of the trainees in their graduate schemes being women, they are passionate about encouraging women into the world of agriculture. She said, “the food and fresh produce industry is so varied there are opportunities for people from all backgrounds. We work hard with universities to demonstrate the wealth of options available for women in agriculture and provide them with the opportunity to showcase their skills with our member companies.”
Emma Spridgen, a teacher who has done seasonal work during the summer holidays on a neighbouring arable farm growing combinable crops, has the unique insight of working in both the female-dominated industry of teaching and the male-dominated industry of farming. ‘Once I had proven that I had the physical strength to open and close a tailgate and could shovel grain just as well as any of the boys, my gender wasn’t an issue or even relevant. I was, however, surprised at how people outside farming perceived the way I spent my summer holidays and were surprised that I drove a tractor”.
In a Farmers’ Weekly survey in 2014, of the 2000 respondents, 18% of women (and only 4% of men) said that physical ability hindered their influence on the farm. On this, Kirsty Barden from MDS Ltd said, “There is the illusion that you need to be physically strong to work in agriculture. Leaving aside the fact that females can be as strong as some men, there are a huge range of roles in agriculture that require a different set of skills. We have had young women thrive in production, research, marketing and commercial. We expect the same level of enthusiasm, dedication and ambition from all of our trainees and roles are assigned on ability alone.”
For more information on MDS Ltd’s graduate schemes, visit https://www.mds-ltd.co.uk/
Of all the female farmers we spoke to, the message was the same, that farming in 2020 was increasingly appealing to women and passion and enthusiasm played a bigger part in a person’s ability than their gender.
Having been born and raised on a farm, Lindsay Dodwell (Instagram @lindsaydodwell) has taken over the livestock side of her family’s farming business. “I breed pedigree Angus and commercial Herefords and Angus alongside a small flock of commercial sheep. I also work as an Area AI/RMS Technician for a company, as I’ve always been into breeding cattle and working alongside farmers. I’ve always found farmers to be really respectful of what I do… and I’m always made to feel part of the team.”
Ali Waugh (Instagram @scottish.potato) is the only female employee on a dairy unit. “I’ve never been limited by being a girl – working in a male-dominated industry has actually been very liberating and I’ve been very lucky in that all my previous employers have taken me very seriously and never treated me any differently. I do sometimes get asked to do certain jobs more often, like sorting calves- the theory being because I’m a girl, I’m more maternal/patient/gentle… but my boss expects the same performance from all of us regardless of gender.”
In order to celebrate some of our female farmers this International Women’s Day we wanted to put the spotlight on some of Instagram’s female farmers.