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.”
FUW celebrates World School Milk Day
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales and pupils across Wales joined countries around the world to highlight the health benefits of school milk programmes and making dairy a part of a healthy diet.
FUW Milk and Dairy Committee Chairman Dai Miles said: “It’s very important that we as an industry go to schools to promote agriculture and educate the next generation about how their food is produced.
“Milk and dairy products have an important part to play in our daily diet as they provide an important source of protein and calcium and contain essential vitamins and minerals, all of which are needed for a balanced diet.
“Indeed, the exclusion of dairy products from the ‘sugar tax’ demonstrates the role such products play in a healthy diet.”
With an increasing amount of research into milk as a recovery and re-hydration aid, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting milk may be just as effective in these areas as some sports or other energy drinks.
“Milk can definitely help pupils stay hydrated and keep their energy levels up in class and it is a much healthier option than some of the sugary drinks available. I would like to thank our schools across Wales for their support today and hope that we can continue working with them on educating pupils about farming matters and where their food comes from,” added Dai Miles.
The Carmarthenshire team, including CEO Nerys Edwards, Admin Assistant Eurgan Llewellyn and FUW Presidential Policy team delegate for South Wales Ian Rickman, visited Ysgol Gynradd y Tymbl and Ysgol Gynradd Llangadog, where they introduced the children to a few facts about milk and dairy products. The children then enjoyed a milkshake and filled out a Welsh dairy word search.
The Ceredigion branch visited Ysgol Gyfun Aberaeron where they went through 56 pints of milk in 20 minutes!
Pembrokeshire pupils at Ysgol Gymunedol Maenclochog, were joined by Dai Miles, the FUW’s Milk and Dairy Produce Committee Chairman, who spoke to the pupils in the morning assembly about how milk is produced.
Joining him were Branwen Miles, his daughter, who spoke about the nutritional benefits of milk and why it is an important part of your diet and Daisy, the Pembrokeshire FUW dairy cow.
The children enjoyed the FUW goody bags, which contained banana milkshakes, kindly donated by Daioni, cheese sticks, kindly donated by Calon Wen, Welsh language farming word puzzles, dot to dots, colouring sheets and stickers.
Children at Ysgol O M Edwards, Llanuwchllyn were joined by FUW Meirionnydd milk and dairy produce committee delegate Gwynfor Jarman, his wife Leusa Jarman and county chairman Geraint Davies.
They met each one of the years within the school and Gwynfor and Leusa gave a presentation on the health benefits of drinking milk. The children were also shown a short video, which included a visit to Gwynfor Jarman’s farm
Industry welcomes transitional plan
PROPOSALS for a period of transition, and protections for the Republic of Ireland and EU citizens living in the UK currently are welcome, but clarity on EU labour and farming subsidies is still needed commented Dr Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, responding to the PM’s speech on Brexit in Florence last week.
Dr Bryans continued: “We welcome Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposals today to protect the common travel area of the Republic of Ireland and to protect the rights of EU citizens working in the UK. It is of upmost importance that the dairy sector can trade with confidence and certainty.
The EU is our biggest export market, and so it is vital we can continue to trade tariff-free and maintain a close and positive relationship whilst negotiations continue and beyond.
“We welcome a transition period as this would provide stability. However, we also believe it is important that both the UK and EU take steps to address ongoing concerns over access to skilled and unskilled EU labour and subsidies for UK farmers once this period ends. These represent key areas of concern for the UK dairy industry.
“Dairy UK will continue to represent the interests of the UK dairy sector to government throughout the negotiations to ensure our members can trade successfully, and consumers can continue to enjoy British dairy products.”
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “Farmers and growers are becoming increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a ‘no deal’ departure from the EU. The resulting disruption to trade, access to labour and business stability would pose a fundamental threat to the viability of many of their businesses.
“The implementation period that the Prime Minister spoke of will be crucial if we are to reach a Brexit settlement that backs British farming, although we await further details on exactly how such a transition will work.
“We believe at least two years is needed to ensure a smooth Brexit, while also agreeing a future relationship between the EU and UK which recognises their mutual importance in terms of trade.
“With over 70% of our exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks being sent to EU markets, the NFU has been making the strongest case for a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and UK.
“We were pleased to hear the Prime Minister say there is no intention to impose tariffs where none currently exist, which the NFU takes as a strong commitment to securing a free trade deal with the EU.
“Any agreement should maintain as far as practicable the free flow of agri-food products between the EU and UK, and following today’s speech this remains a realistic prospect, although much now depends on proper progress being made in the negotiations.
“We were also very interested to hear the Prime Minister’s commitment to maintaining free movement of people involving a registration system for new arrivals. However, the industry desperately needs more detail on how the immigration system will work both during and after the transition – vague pledges and offers are not enough if potential workers are to be reassured that they can legally take up the jobs on offer.
“The Prime Minister’s speech today reflects many of the Brexit policies the NFU has proposed since the EU referendum. Despite the lack of detail, we hope that today’s speech will move negotiations forward so that there is stability for agriculture, businesses, the economy and society at large after Brexit.
“Brexit means hard choices – politicians on all sides must now start being more honest about the trade-offs involved and the difficult questions that need answering if we are to make it a success.”
Lamb fans get expert help on how to cook long and slow
DEVOTEES of Welsh Lamb across the UK have been enjoying practical sessions on how to get the best out of slow-cooking with versatile meat, thanks to an innovative brand partnership between Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and AGA.
At nearly 30 of the famous range cooker’s stores and dealerships, from Nantwich to Norwich and from Tunbridge Wells to Inverness, expert chefs have been showing customers how to create fabulous family dishes like slow-roasted shoulders of PGI Welsh Lamb. HCC also provided a range of recipe leaflets, and Welsh Lamb has featured in the AGA customer magazine.
Alongside the tastings, customers across Britain had the chance to win AGA cooking accessories through a social media competition.
The promotion is part of HCC’s work in the UK domestic market, targeting demographics known to be keen to experiment with new ways of cooking lamb.
“Working with AGA has been a great opportunity for us to showcase PGI Welsh Lamb to target consumers right across Britain,” said HCC’s Marketing Manager Rhys Llywelyn. “Starting on the 1st of September during ‘Love Lamb Week’ and continuing throughout the month, the in-store demonstrations and tastings have gone down extremely well.
“People have posted videos of the recipes online, and the number of entries to the cooking accessory competition has exceeded all our expectations,” he added. “Welsh Lamb is at its peak availability at retailers across Britain in the summer and autumn, so this was a timely way of showcasing how to create fantastic dishes from under-rated cuts such as shoulders.”
AGA demonstrator and cookery writer Sarah Whitaker, who presented four days of cooking demonstrations at AGA stores in the south of England, commented: “The best flavour was from roasting in the deep tin on the first runners in the baking oven. The lamb shoulders were quite perfect and delicious, tender and juicy!”
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