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.”
TFA ready to work with Welsh Government
TFA CYMRU, The Tenant Farmers Association in Wales, has welcomed the principles for future farm policy in Wales set out by the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM.
TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “The Cabinet Secretary has recognised the significant and swift changes that are on the horizon for the farming community and we welcome her determination to ensure that farming continues to be supported as a vital component of the rural economy within Wales. Her reference to farming acting as the ‘social anchor’ of many communities within Wales demonstrates her understanding of the important role that agriculture plays in delivering benefits for the whole of Welsh society.”
“We agree that the significant differences between farming in England and Wales requires the maximum amount of flexibility within the devolution settlement whilst respecting the need to ensure that we have a properly functioning UK single market in which farmers in Wales can continue to do business with other parts of the UK without restriction,” said Mr Dunn.
“TFA Cymru has been particularly active in ensuring that any new Government policy must be focused on active farmers and, for the tenanted sector in particular, we do not want to see any future support becoming capitalised into land rents, land values or otherwise hived off by non-active land owners. The determination of the Cabinet Secretary to keep land managers on the land chimes fully with TFA Cymru policy in this area,” said Mr Dunn.
“TFA Cymru will work constructively with the Welsh Government in pursuing its plans for food production and in assisting farmers to compete in a global marketplace trading on the benefits of ‘brand Wales’. It is vitally important in this respect that we look at the whole of the supply chain to ensure that it is operating as fairly and as competitively as possible,” said Mr Dunn.
“Understandably there is a desire to develop a system of future support based on public payments for public goods and we are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary sees this policy going hand in hand in ensuring the profitability and resilience of Welsh farms,” said Mr Dunn.
“Much will depend on the financial settlement that Wales achieves in terms of the Brexit dividend and TFA Cymru accepts that change is coming. We will want to ensure that farm tenants are able to have the same opportunity to access and benefit from the help and support available alongside their owner occupier neighbours,” said Mr Dunn.
Expert tips on dogs and livestock
THE FUW caught up with Bryony Francis, a dog behaviour consultant, Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), who spoke at the Animal Welfare Network Wales livestock worrying seminar, hosted by the FUW at the end of last year.
Bryony has been running a behaviour practice in South Wales and the Marches since 2002 and lives in farming country near the Black Mountains with her husband and a Jack Russell Terrier.
Here is her advice for dog owners when it comes to livestock worrying:
With various access rights, walkers and dogs share the countryside with the farm animals and wildlife that live there. We all want to enjoy it. Yet science shows that any new arrival causes stress to livestock and, of stimuli investigated, a dog is the most aversive stimulus that you can present to sheep.
In short, as soon as you take a dog into a field of sheep, you are likely to cause stress to the sheep regardless of how you and your dog behave after that. Stress can cause illness and injury, and therefore has serious consequences for the welfare of the livestock and the farmer’s livelihood. Owners and walkers of dogs have responsibilities under the law and, under some circumstances, farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs that endanger their sheep.
Dogs inherit some behavioural tendencies and acquire others. The domestic dog is a predator, with hunting behaviours altered but not eliminated through breeding. A dog’s desire to engage in these hunting behaviours varies from breed to breed and from individual dog to individual dog. Most dogs learn early in their lives to enjoy chasing things.
In dog behavioural development terms, the socialisation period between 3 and 15 weeks of age is a sensitive phase of social development providing a window of opportunity where experience of sheep might set them up for friendly, calm interactions.
That said, like all socialisation, it is a lifelong exercise requiring skilled positive handling and knowledge of both species to maintain good behaviour between dog and sheep. If your dog has not encountered sheep before or will not encounter sheep on a daily basis, then you are well advised not to invoke interest in sheep at all. Otherwise, you may ‘awake’ in your dog exactly the predatory chasing behaviour you are trying to avoid and it is much harder to stop than it is to prevent in the first place. Instead, please manage your dog on a lead and at a distance which will not disturb the sheep.
If your dog has already gained access to sheep and become over-interested, the first thing to do is to keep your dog away from sheep, whether or not you are accompanying it (a significant proportion of livestock worrying takes place without the dog owner’s knowledge. If your dog has free run of your garden, make sure it’s secure).
The second is to find a specialist, qualified behaviour counsellor and discuss a management plan and realistic goals. Whoever provides this should be an expert in the behaviour of the particular livestock species and able to recognise and respond to any sign of distress in livestock as well as in people and dogs.
Inappropriate advice and methods may worsen your dog’s behaviour and can result in welfare problems for livestock and dogs. Registered clinical animal behaviourists, such as APBC Members, have achieved the highest academic and practical standards in the field of animal behaviour: they can help dog owners to use positive reinforcement techniques, away from livestock, to teach your dog to walk calmly on a short, loose lead and to focus their attention on you regardless of distractions.
If your dog hasn’t seen livestock before, and there is no need for it to see livestock, consider keeping it away. Where possible, avoid walking your dog in fields containing livestock. If you can’t avoid fields containing livestock, give the livestock plenty of space. Keep your dog on a short lead and focussed on you.
You’ll be doing the livestock a favour and possibly preventing a behaviour problem in your dog.
Gareth Raw Rees Memorial Scholarship 2018
WANT to travel the world and learn more about agriculture in other countries?
Then this could be your chance as the Gareth Raw Rees Memorial Scholarship, supported by the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust, is making up to £2,500 available to lucky youngsters to make their travel dreams come true.
The Scholarship, which was renamed in 2008 thanks to an annual donation of £1000 from the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust, is looking for applicants considering travelling in the UK, Europe or further afield. If you are under 30 and would like some financial assistance with your travels then contact NFU Cymru for an application form – even if you have already received support from another scholarship or fund.
Neil Hamilton, AM for Mid & West Wales and Leader of UKIP Wales, is urging young famers, in his constituency, to travel and learn more about agriculture in other countries.
“This a wonderful opportunity for young farmers who are keen to learn more about agriculture and farming methods in other parts of the world.
“Ten young people benefited from the award last year and between them visited USA, Latvia, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand where they gained an insight into farming in these countries.
“As everybody knows, these days, it is more important than ever to gain a wider knowledge of the agricultural industry and it is great to see such opportunities available for young farmers in Wales.
“I would urge anyone interested to make sure they apply.”
NFU Cymru County Adviser, Peter Howells said, “The scholarship fund was launched in 1984 in memory of the late Gareth Raw Rees MBE from Ceredigion whose considerable energies had always been directed towards promoting the interests of young people in farming and in the countryside. He was a firm believer in the inestimable benefits of travelling towards the fulfilment of a broader and more rewarding education.”
The Scholarship is managed by the Raw Rees family; NFU Cymru; NFU Mutual; Wales YFC; the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the Future Farmers of Wales.
“The Gareth Raw Rees Scholarship offers fantastic opportunities for young people to travel and learn from farming methods in other parts of the world,” said Dai Davies OBE, Chairman of NFU Mutual’s Advisory Board for Wales. “In today’s fast changing agricultural industry, it’s vital that our young farmers gain a wider perspective to help them farm successfully, which is why NFU Mutual is a strong supporter of the scholarship scheme. Over the years we’ve received some exceptional applications from some very capable and enterprising young people and have been able to support their efforts in visiting and learning about a variety of agricultural techniques employed all across the globe. We very much look forward to receiving some equally impressive applications once again in 2018.”
In 2017 10 young people benefited from the award, and between them visited New Zealand, USA, Latvia, Australia and Argentina.
For an application form, contact Peter Howells at NFU Cymru on 01982 554200 or email Peter.Howells@nfu.org.uk. A copy of the guidelines and an application form is also available on the NFU Cymru website www.nfu-cymru.org.uk
The closing date for applications is Friday May 4, 2018 and the winners will be announced at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.
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