Yesterday I chaired a discussion at the Royal Welsh Show about the changing role of women in agriculture. The event was hosted by the FUW, which assembled a fantastic panel for the debate. Below is the organisation’s press release…

Women take centre stage at FUW debate

Women are often overlooked for their contribution to agriculture, be it in a hands-on role, supporting the family farm or in the allied industries. The Farmers’ Union of Wales were therefore delighted to host a discussion panel highlighting the important and changing role of women in the industry at the Royal Welsh Show.

Joining the panel of speakers were Baroness Eluned Morgan, Brecon deer farmer Kath Shaw, Meirionnydd farmer and HCC board member Rachael Davies and FUW Marketing and Membership manager Teleri Fielden who has recently been announced as the next Llyndy Isaf Scholar.

Originally from just outside London, Kath Shaw farms about 80 acres in partnership with her mother. She started in the deer industry at the age of 20 with a year’s work placement with ADAS in Herefordshire.

From there she completed an ANC in Deer Management at Sparsholt College, Hampshire, worked for various people eventually ending up as Deer Stockperson for JCB in Staffordshire, in charge of a herd of 500 breeding hinds.

During a quiet moment she decided she wanted to work for herself and, after much searching, purchased their farm in Radnorshire.
Currently they have about 65 acres fenced for deer and has a breeding herd of 43 hinds, 45 yearlings for slaughter and another 40 calves born this year.

They have also erected 2 purpose-built sheds for over wintering. Future plans include reducing the age profile of the breeding herd, improving the quality of the grass and building a new handling shed.

They sell all their stock live to the Welsh Venison Centre, which are then slaughtered locally and sold through their farm shop and meat round.

Reflecting on her experience as a women in farming Kath said: “Being a woman in agriculture has advantages and disadvantages. I have experienced low-level sexism in the industry throughout my working life, but have always deflected it with humour and if that hasn’t worked, by confronting the individual concerned.

“On the plus side, being a woman in a male dominated field has made me  more memorable. In the last 10 years farming has changed to become less focussed on brawn as people are more aware of the importance of sensible working practices. This has benefitted everyone as machinery becomes more sophisticated and equipment is developed to help with the heavier jobs. There is always a solution to a problem that doesn’t involve lifting heavy weights by hand!”

Kath also believes that the future of agriculture depends on people working as a team, be they male or female. She added: “Women have always worked in the background on farms. It is often the women who feed and check the stock while their husband goes off to do a day’s work somewhere else and I see no reason why they shouldn’t take a more prominent position on the farm. True, it is not very glamourous and you are unlikely to find a female farmer with a perfect French manicure or the latest designer clothes but the job satisfaction is huge and it’s so much better than sitting in an office, staring at the same 4 walls every day.”

Despite having not grown up on a farm, Teleri Fielden has always sought out opportunities to gain farming experience. From an early age she helped out on her grandparent’s farm and more recently worked and studied on a mixed research farm in the French Rhone Alps, which included mountain shepherding at 1000 meters.

She was also short-listed and interviewed for the National Trust’s Parc Farm on the Great Orme. Teleri has varied experience within the industry, from each step of the ‘food chain’ and most recently has been working as Marketing and Membership Manager for FUW and has been awarded the Llyndy Isaf Scholarship.

“I think the fact that there are more women applying for agricultural courses now shows that the industry is less male dominated than the stereotype shows and we are increasingly represented in the industry, although there is definitely room for improvement.

“It’s more about confidence and practise really for me when it comes to the practical side of farming – and not assuming that you can’t lift this or that and need help with something. Of course being 5 foot like me does have physical limitations, which can be frustrating, but I’d like to think that my other skills and knowledge make up for that.

“I was fortunate in having some great female role models around me over the years, who inspired confidence and a ‘I can do this’ attitude.”

Rachael Davies is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades as a politics graduate who was called to the bar specialising in employment law and commercial disputes but has been working in the food and farming sector for the past 8 years.

Rachael has held commercial roles both with an international retailer and in the independent sector, with particular focus on food marketing.

She farms beef and sheep in Meirionnydd with her husband Geraint and is involved with agriculture from grassroots to strategic board level.

“Women’s role within the agricultural industry has definitely changed in the past ten years with women being more openly and publicly involved however, there is still some distance to go. Women have been grafters and decision-makers on family farms for centuries yet in the twenty-first century we are still in the position of having to ‘prove’ ourselves or occasionally becoming pseudo-masculine to do so,” said Rachael Davies.

She adds that one of the most frustrating questions to be asked as a mother of two daughters is “wouldn’t it be nice to have a boy, for the farm!?” But she is determined to get involved, lead by example and highlight that women are just as capable as men within the agricultural industry, both physically and intellectually.

“I urge women to get involved, make things more integrated, let’s encourage, engage – women have the skills that modern farming needs; we are natural multi-taskers, good communicators and used to hard work. More women need to be involved steering the direction of the industry; feeding into stakeholder groups who are still dominated by men, usually of a certain age and demographic,” she said.

Opening the seminar was Eluned Morgan AM said: “Post-Brexit co-operation rather than competition within the agricultural community will be essential and this may come more natural to women.

“Post-Brexit we need women entrepreneurs to lead, to think big and to think bold. My message today is for women not to let politicians make all the decisions, but to play a leadership role on your farms and your communities. That’s the only way we will see positive outcomes for the challenges ahead.”

Chairing the discussions was Mariclare Carey-Jones, freelance journalist for BBC Radio 4 ‘Farming Today’. Summarising the event, she said: “Today’s discussion was an impressive demonstration of the strength and depth of skill and character amongst women in agriculture. While it was shocking to hear some of the examples of sexism that still exist in the industry, attitudes towards women in farming are undoubtedly improving. I feel positive that there’s a real determination to ensure women continue to thrive and I’m excited about the future.”