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The changing role of women in farming today



“Why can’t women be farmers in their own right?”: Rachael Davies

TO CELEBRATE International Women’s Day, the Farmers’ Union of Wales explored what working in the agricultural industry is like for women today.

Working in partnership are husband and wife team Geraint and Rachael Davies.

Speaking about her perception of women in farming, FUW member Rachael Davies, who farms 1,200 acres in Bala, Gwynedd, carrying 1,000 breeding ewes with 200 replacements and 30 suckler cows, in partnership with her husband Geraint, said: “Farmer’s daughter, farmer’s wife – why can’t women just be farmers in their own right rather than be defined by the nearest man who happens to farm?

“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 21st century, we are still in the position of having to ‘prove’ ourselves or occasionally becoming pseudo-masculine to do so.”

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,” adds Rachael.

Supporting her views is husband and FUW Meirionnydd County Vice Chairman, Geraint Davies. He said: “Behind every great man there is a greater woman, or so my grandmother has always told me. Until my grandparents retired in 2000 my grandmother kept the farm going through fuel for the men, the kettle was never far off boiling point on the Rayburn and a meal ready on the table.”

He recalls that the farmhouse was her domain and his grandmother was not involved in much of the decision making of the day to day running of the farm. The next generation, his parents, followed a similar suit with his mother being chief cook and bottle-washer but with slightly more involvement in the decision-making but not beyond the kitchen doorstep.

“Rachael started how she meant to go on by farming outside with me as well as making all decisions with me, no matter how small or big. Our business is very much based on partnership but we don’t necessarily always agree. I welcome her views and the challenges to my ideas and it works for our business. Rachael, like many modern farming women juggles employment off farm and family life alongside running the business. I now have two daughters and I see a bright future for them in farming (if they choose). I think farming needs more women involved: I’m fed up dealing with negative old men,” added Geraint.

But what is it like to be in charge of a farm holding with no men around? We spoke to FUW Brecon and Radnor administrative assistant Kath Shaw, who also farms 80 acres in Radnorshire in partnership with her mother, where they run a herd of red deer.

Kath and her mum Fran run the 80 acre deer farm together.

Kath completed an HND in Agriculture at Myerscough College and an AND in Deer Management at Sparsholt College and has worked in the deer industry ever since, setting up her own deer herd in 2004. Kath was born and grew up near London and whilst she did not come from a farming background, she was always encouraged to be outside and nurtured a healthy obsession with horses until the age of 16.

“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 ten years farming has changed to become less focused on brawn as people are more aware of the importance of sensible working practices. This has benefited 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 four walls every day.”

Women also play a supportive role on farm. They offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens.

Anwen Hughes, the FUW’s Ceredigion County Chairman and Younger Voice for Farming Committee vice chairman, farms around 138 acres, of which 99 acres are owned, 22.5 acres are on a lifetime farm tenancy and a further 17 acres are rented.

She keeps 100 pedigree Lleyn sheep, 30 purebred Highland sheep and 300 cross bred Lleyn and Highland ewes and has been farming since 1995 at Bryngido farm, just outside of Aberaeron in Ceredigion.

Anwen runs the farm on her own. In the current financial climate the farm business doesn’t make enough money to sustain more than one wage, so it’s up to Anwen to take care of the home farm.

She said: “Growing up around men in the agricultural industry I have found that as a woman you have to earn respect and make a man listen. You have to prove and show that you know what you are talking about. That can be quite intimidating at the start but by now I have no problem turning up to a meeting full of men. Money on farms has got tighter, so many farmers are turning to their wives for help on the farm.”

However it’s not all about being tough Anwen says. She thinks that women add a much needed soft touch to an industry that can be harsh and unforgiving in so many ways. She says “Women also play a supportive role on farm. They offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens and are often in charge of the paperwork too. I think the role of women has changed dramatically over the years, with many of us also having to run the business side of things, look after the children and keep the household going.”

Managing Partner at AgriAdvisor, Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones said: “In the Welsh agricultural industry the role of women within farming businesses is evident, with men and women working side by side in farming family businesses for decades in a manner to which other industries still aspire.

“A sustainable farming industry will need to encourage those with other skills and expertise to work within agriculture.”

“Were you asked to draw a picture of a farmer, the majority would surely draw a male character with a flat cap, a check shirt and wellingtons. This image is now a stereotype and those of us who have grown up within the industry and who have seen the inner dynamics of how a farming business works know that most major business decisions are decided around the kitchen table with input from all who work within the business, both male and female.

“The perceived barrier of the physical nature of farm work making it more ‘suitable’ for men, is becoming a myth, dispelled further by the increased availability and use of technology and innovation on farms. A sustainable farming industry will need to encourage those with other skills and expertise to work within agriculture and therefore women who may have had to work off-farm to supplement incomes will be in an excellent position to bring those additional skills to the farming table.”

“Things have changed, we have achieved the roles we hold due to our ability, our focus and drive.”

Alison Harvey, Agriculture Manager for Lamb at Dunbia, said: “I don’t feel as though I have to ‘deal’ with being a woman in the farming industry. This time has passed in Wales, we have moved on. Things have changed, we have achieved the roles we hold due to our ability, our focus and drive.

“My role means I work with farmers and retailers and I have never felt that being a women has either helped or hindered what I do. You have to work to gain experience and knowledge, and with this, people will respect you more – but this is about age and experience rather than being a woman.

“Women have been a vital role in farming for a lot longer than I have been around, it doesn’t matter what the role has been on the farm, and the fact is that women have always been important to agriculture. The best businesses I have come across have been partnerships, each knowing their strengths and weaknesses and working together to get the best from one another.”

The main change Alison thinks, and not just for women in agriculture, has been education: “Women have gone to University, or college, or to work in another business, and they have brought what they have learnt back to the business at home, or developed careers in particular areas.

“This is where I see most potential for agriculture, getting new skills into the business. As a result of their education women have more prominent roles in agriculture, we see women in roles that have traditionally had men in them. It is equality and balance that seems to work best, not one sex overpowering another, this is what we should aim for.”

RABI Wales Regional Manager Linda Jones said: “Many more women are embracing the opportunities available to them in farming than a decade ago. Farming has been traditionally viewed as a male-dominated industry but increasingly, women are choosing to immerse themselves fully in the farm business rather than settling for the roles of chief cook, bottle-washer and VAT returns person.

“Many more women are embracing the opportunities available to them in farming than a decade ago.”

“Women realise the importance of acquiring new knowledge, keeping up with technology and ‘up-skilling’ and are adept at finding new ways and opportunities to make money for the business. Diversification is another key area where women can excel. Their ability to think outside the box and not rely on traditional ideas can be inspiring.

“Women are the driving force behind many successful farming businesses, but their significant contribution is not always readily acknowledged outside the four walls of the home. Pride is such a major issue in the farming industry and I see this with my work for the farming charity, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I). Pride prevents many farming people who are struggling financially from picking up the telephone and calling our Freephone helpline 0808 281 9490. Our work is strictly confidential but very often it is the woman of the farm who has the courage and strength to call the helpline and ask for help.”

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Cabinet Secretary kick starts land management debate



One size doesn't fit all: Lesley Griffiths argues for different approach in Wales

CABINET S​ECRETARY for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has outlined her vision for land management in Wales post-Brexit and has kick-started a conversation with the industry on how this can be delivered.

Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham, the Cabinet Secretary outlined the importance of devolution and reiterated her commitment to ensure Wales does not lose a penny of funding as a result.

Speaking at the conference, the Cabinet Secretary said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, the case for devolution is stronger than ever. The nature of our farming is different and our rural communities are different. There is no one size that fits all.

“Farming is a vital part of our rural economy. I often have to remind people from outside the sector that over 80% of Welsh land is owned and managed by Welsh farmers, foresters and environmental bodies. We need them and the work they do to help deliver our ambitions for a prosperous Wales.

“I want to start detailed discussion with stakeholders about the details and to get their input on what works.

“We must work towards a shared vision. I know farmers can adapt but it is government’s job to give them the time and tools to do so.

“The transition period must be a real one, it must be well-planned and it must take place over a number of years. There is too much at stake – economically, socially and environmentally – to not get this right.

“This is worth taking the time to get right. It is a once in a generation opportunity and I am confident we can make swift progress.”

Responding to her comments, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Within days of the June 2016 EU referendum we had issued a call for a realistic post-Brexit transition period for farming, and for future policies to be developed slowly and investigated thoroughly, so the Cabinet Secretaries comments are naturally welcome.”

During her speech, Mrs Griffiths highlighted the need for clarity over UK funding arrangements for Wales, and that Wales should not lose a penny in rural funding, echoing calls made earlier in the day by the FUW President.

The Cabinet Secretary also gave assurances that she would “…fight to protect funding returning to Wales from going elsewhere,” adding, “We must continue this vital support because I cannot think of another part of Welsh society which makes such a multi-faceted contribution to our nation. Farming is a vital part of the rural economy. It is the social anchor of our rural communities, and farmers are the custodians of the land that underpins our natural environment.”

“We need to make the most of the opportunities we have to improve what we already do, while also ensuring tools are in place to cater for possible adverse impacts of Brexit,” Glyn Roberts said.

Mr Roberts added that: “The FUW has valued and seen the fruits of our recent work with the Cabinet Secretary and her wider team and we are pleased to see such significant progress. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the WG as we seek to protect the future of family farming in Wales.”

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It’s all go for Moat Goats



A family business: Meg and Damian McNamara with 4 month old Iori

GOAT farming couple Meg and Damian McNamara of Moat Village Farm, New Moat, Pembrokeshire, have been recognised for keeping the countryside vibrant by the Pembrokeshire FUW Countryside Business Award 2017.

The award, a £200 cash prize, perpetual trophy and a year’s free membership of the FUW, is presented every two years to someone who, 40 years of age or under, has developed their own business in rural Pembrokeshire.

“In presenting the award we recognise the fantastic work our young people are doing to keep our rural areas of Pembrokeshire vibrant and economically active places. Meg and Damian are very worthy winners of the award indeed and we can be proud to have such an inspirational farming couple in our midst,” said FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive Officer Rebecca Voyle.

Meg and Damian were both raised on dairy farms in Pembrokeshire, and always had a strong ambition to farm themselves. Although they both work outside of agriculture, Damian works as a Process Operator at Valero Refinery and Meg is a qualified Bank nurse, currently on Maternity Leave, they have managed to fulfil their farming ambition alongside keeping their day jobs. Meg also participated in the 2017 Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme.

They bought their first land, a 12.5 acre field, in April 2015 and also farm 72 acres of Meg’s family’s farm. Their first goats arrived just 7 months later, having decided that this diversification would be both challenging and rewarding. Their herd now numbers 200 breeding female Boer goats.

Their agri-food business, Moat Goats, operates from farm to fork with home-bred kids reared by their dams. The male kids are finished for meat and the females are retained to increase the size of the breeding herd. Grass is grown both for grazing and for silage, with surplus sold for extra revenue. Mixed leys with herbs are also being tried to exploit health and production benefits.

Talking about a usual day on the farm Meg said: “We start by feeding the goats, checking and observing that they are ok, then it’s on to bedding down and we also spend time on farm work such as fieldwork and farm maintenance tasks. We also aim to post a picture or post on social media every day, as well as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and making sure that we market the business properly.”

As the male kids fatten and finish, Meg and Damian organise the slaughter in Maesteg, Bridgend and butchering of the carcasses locally at Cig Lodor, Rosebush. They then promote and sell the product online and started selling goat kid meat direct from the farm in October 2016. Now they supply meat boxes to customers throughout the UK via courier delivery, using social media for marketing. They have also supplied several local butchers with their goat meat, such as Chris Rogers in Carmarthen, T.G.Davies in Newport, Andrew Rees in Narberth, Gary the Butcher in Llandysul and DMS Llanelli and sell from the farm itself.

Speaking about the need to diversify, Meg explained: “We were aware that we needed to diversify in farming as we didn’t have enough land or time to compete with dairy, beef, sheep farmers.

“We experimented at home with jam making, cheese making, bought some heritage pigs before falling in love with 2 pet Boer cross goats and deciding to make a business from this interest.”

Meg and Damian exploit every opportunity to raise awareness of their quality produce, devising recipes, posting photos of the goats and the meals online and also supplied meat for a cookery demonstration at the 2017 Pembrokeshire County Show.

The business is going strong but there were some challenges the couple faced when setting the business up. Damian said: “The biggest challenge has been learning how to feed, handle and manage a goat herd – they require attention to detail which we have learnt through trial and error. Juggling farm and business commitments with family life and work off the farm remains an ongoing challenge especially with our young baby.”

Not ones to sit on their laurels, the couple are very aware that there are challenges the sector and their business faces. “Marketing and increasing our customer base remains a top priority for us but it’s also about raising awareness and promoting the benefits of goat meat – it’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high in iron.

“But of course, farming goats in north Pembrokeshire there is always the concern of a TB breakdown. So we take care of complying with all the necessary biosecurity and work hard to minimise contact with other herds,” said Meg.

Damian added: “We will deal with all of these challenges as a family unit and will continue to raise awareness of our business and the nutritional value of goat meat through social media. That way we hope to be selling more carcasses to the retail customer. We also intend to expand the business and therefore retain all the female kids for a few more years. Currently, we’re aiming for a herd of approximately 400 breeding females.”

It is clear that Meg and Damian are passionate about their produce and they encourage everyone to give goat meat a try.

“Goat meat is really tasty! It’s similar in texture to lamb and really easy to cook. Try something like pulled shoulder of goat kid or a simple quick-cook recipe such as chops, cutlets or sausages and have a look on our Facebook page for inspiration,” said Meg.

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Reducing nitrogen emissions from cattle



Forage fed cows: Reducing dairy farming's pollution

SCIENTISTS at Aberystwyth University are leading a new international research project to find ways of reducing nitrogen pollution from dairy production.

​​The Horizon 2020 funded Cowficie​N​cy project involves the exchange of staff between commercial and academic partners to upgrade and implement dairy cow diet formulation models, to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use on dairy farms.

Scientists at the University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) are working with four industry partners that consult on thousands of European dairy farms, and five prestigious European and American academic institutions.

Dr Jon Moorby is leading the work at IBERS: “Dairy cows are good at producing highly nutritious food for us from feedstuffs that we cannot eat. However, they can have negative impacts on the wider environment, by excreting excess nitrogen.

“We know from a scientific standpoint how we can minimise this to reduce pollution from dairy production, although relatively few strategies have been converted into agricultural practice because of the lack of research linking through to on-farm application by the dairy industry.

“The Cowficie​n​cy project is addressing this by providing tools that can help the dairy industry shift towards more efficient and less polluting methods”, added Dr Moorby.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient used by farmers worldwide in both feeds (as protein) and fertilisers.

Used strategically, it increases pasture growth and is a key element in the production of meat and milk.

However, it is continually cycling through the soil, atmosphere and the farm system and its extended use has led to considerable negative effects on the environment.

The Cowficie​n​cy team will be working with farms in Europe to familiarize and accommodate them in describing their nitrogen balance situation using two mathematical models, one cow-based, and the other herd-based.

The models will be updated for amino acid metabolism in the framework of the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS), and include aspects of heifer growth and cattle fertility and economics to encompass the whole lifetime of the animals, increasing not only the accuracy of the models but also their commercial potential.

The final phase of the project will see the implementation of the upgraded models on participating CowficieNcy project farms.

Dr Moorby added​:​ “Increasing the efficiency of nitrogen use in lactating dairy cows will reduce nitrogen pollution from dairy production, and ultimately save the farmer money.”

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