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Farming

The changing role of women in farming today

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“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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Farming

Glyphosate license renewed for five years

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Glyphosate renewal: NFU welcomes EU approval

18 countries have backed the renewal of glyphosate for five years, with nine voting against and one abstaining.

At least 16 votes were required to renew glyphosate’s license.

A complete ban would have meant a competitive disadvantage for European farmers compared to other countries for example South America who are still allowed to use it.

The EU’s Health and Food Safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis tweeted: “Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making.”

The European Commission, which tabled the extension, said in a statement: “The proposal voted today enjoys the broadest possible support by the Member States while ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment in line with EU legislation. The Commission will not adopt the decision before the current authorization expires on 15 December…”

The controversial weed killer has been under the spotlight in the EU since June 2016, when its previous 15-year license expired and an 18-month extension was granted.

The licence extension has been the source of much controversy with EU states divided on whether the chemical is safe for use after the WHO’s cancer agency concluded it probably causes cancer.

Welcoming the decision Guy Smith, NFU Vice President, said: “I would like to pay tribute to the farmers across the country who have lobbied their MEPs and invited them out on to farm to see first-hand the benefits glyphosate brings, and those who have made the case for glyphosate’s reauthorisation on social media. I am convinced their efforts have helped us reach this positive outcome.

“It is good news that farmers and growers will be able to continue using glyphosate for another five years. However, the fact remains that there is absolutely no regulatory reason why it should not have been re-authorised for 15 years, as was originally proposed.

“Today’s decision will be welcomed by farmers who have watched with growing concern as what should have been a straightforward decision has become increasingly political.”

Anthea McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, said: “The scaremongering and indecision over this product had left farmers and growers fearing they were staring over a cliff edge, so this will be greeted with enormous relief.”

Miss McIntyre, member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, said: “It should never have taken this long to renew the licence and it should have been renewed for a full 15 years but the last minute reprieve and the licence for five years is welcome.

“For a zero Improvement in public health and safety, we would have been worsening food security, soil quality, biodiversity and climate change.”

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato, a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, commented: “This is a toxic decision. The Commission are ignoring huge opposition from civil society; the almost one and a half million EU citizens who have signed a petition against glyphosate and the European Parliament who recently voted for a five-year phase out.”

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Farming

NFU Cymru wants a Welsh Xmas

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World class produce: Welsh farmers produce the best

MORE than half (58%) of Welsh consumers did not know if any of the items of their Christmas dinner last year were produced in Wales, according to a new survey commissioned by NFU Cymru.

The findings of the survey, conducted by YouGov, show that only 18% of Welsh consumers had Welsh turkey for Christmas dinner in 2016, while only 29% ate Welsh potatoes.

The survey did, however, show that shoppers recognise the hallmarks of Welsh produce. The findings show that consumers associate Welsh produce with quality (78%), high production standards (66%), high environmental standards (59%) and good value for money (53%).

In a bid to encourage more shoppers to buy more Welsh during the festive period this year, NFU Cymru has launched a new ‘Proud to Produce Your Christmas’ campaign at this year’s Royal Welsh Winter Fair, highlighting the role that Welsh farmers and growers play in producing the ingredients of a traditional Christmas dinner. The initiative aims to underline that it is possible to source the staple items of a traditional Christmas meal here in Wales, while also encouraging the public to support the Welsh food and farming sector by buying Welsh produce for their Christmas dinner this year.

The campaign features a video of a delicious Welsh Christmas feast and shows some of the producers across Wales who are responsible for producing the ingredients. The video includes turkeys reared in Meirionnydd, potatoes from Pembrokeshire, Brussel sprouts grown in Monmouthshire and pigs in blankets produced in Clwyd. The short film also highlights that PGI Welsh Lamb and Beef are also enjoyed in homes throughout Wales during the festive season as an alternative to traditional Christmas fayre.

NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “Food and drink play an important role in bringing people together during the festive season and Welsh farmers are proud to play their part by producing world-class produce for your Christmas dinner. This is a potentially prosperous period for the food and drink industry here in Wales, but it’s clear from the findings of our survey work this is an opportunity that isn’t being fully capitalised on. There’s a role for all of us in raising the profile of Welsh produce to shoppers in the lead up to the festive period and encouraging more people to prioritise Welsh food and drink when it comes to sourcing the ingredients for their festive meal.

“The Royal Welsh Winter Fair is home to some of the best food and drink producers that Wales has to offer, so the event provides the perfect opportunity for us to launch our ‘Proud to Produce Your Christmas’ campaign to help drive a rise in the number of people sourcing Welsh for their meals over the festive period.

“Our campaign highlights that consumers do not need to look further afield to construct their festive feast – all of the ingredients are available right on their doorstep in Wales. We are proud that so many consumers associate Welsh produce with quality, good value for money and high production standards. We hope that by underlining the link between producers in Wales and the food they produce, more people will prioritise Welsh this Christmas and support our hardworking Welsh farmers and growers in the process.

“The ‘Proud to Produce Your Christmas’ video underlines how easy it is to source the ingredients for a wholesome, delicious festive feast that’s grown and reared here in Wales. I hope this video inspires more people to have a Welsh Christmas in 2017.”

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Farming

Welsh farmers flock to sheep conference

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Welsh farmers: ​A large Welsh contingent attended the recent sheep industry summit in Nottingham

A ​LARGE contingent of Welsh farmers travelled to Nottingham last week to attend one of the most important events in the calendar of the UK sheep industry – the bi-annual Sheep Breeders’ Round Table.

Over 200 delegates in total heard from international experts in genetics, farming and marketing. Key speakers included Icelandic sheep industry consultants Eyjólfur Ingvi Bjarnason and Eyþór Einarsson, and Emma Eyþórsdóttir, Associate Professor at the Agricultural University of Iceland.

The long anticipated preliminary results of the RamCompare project were announced in the Friday session which sparked much discussion. Phase 2 of the project has commenced with further results to be announced in May.

Past Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) Scholar Huw Williams of Talley in Carmarthenshire presented his work on the use of EID Tracking and DNA Shepherding for identifying parentage in flocks in Australia and New Zealand. Also, sheep geneticist Janet Roden outlined the ways that performance recording and genetic improvement could enhance the Welsh hill flock.

Sheep-breeder Aled Huw Roberts, from Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in north Powys, won a scholarship from HCC to attend the Round Table event. He said​:​ “I immensely enjoyed all the presentations and specifically the discussion after each. The underlying messages were to improve on-farm efficiency through having a clear focus on the market and quality of the products we are selling.”

HCC Industry Development Officer Gwawr Parry added​:​ “The theme of this year’s conference was ‘thinking positively’, so it was great to see so many make the trip from Wales to contribute to constructive debates on how the industry can take on the challenges of the future.”

The Sheep Breeders Roundtable was organised by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), and supported by HCC, Quality Meat Scotland, the National Sheep Association and Scotland’s Rural College.

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