Women play hugely significant entrepreneurial roles on farms and in rural business, and their influence will be crucial to countryside industries meet future challenges, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Women in Farming Network heard as members across the county met at the Great Yorkshire Showground.
For the first time in two years, around 110 women – and men – joined the Network at Pavilions of Harrogate for an Autumn Gathering that offered valuable ‘in-person’ networking opportunities.
Stories of business success and challenge were shared and celebrated as a diverse panel of speakers reflected on their careers and personal journeys at an event kindly sponsored by Barclays bank and property agents Savills.
Setting the scene, Judith Wood, Barclays Agricultural Manager who chaired the event, explained how farming businesses are currently challenged by increased costs and cashflow pressures.
Many are benefitting from high grain and livestock prices at the moment, but unfortunately this is being dashed by high fertiliser, fuel and feed prices, and also the labour shortage and the impact that is having on our industry too.
Strawberry grower Annabel Makin-Jones told of how new technology is helping her address labour shortages that have affected her business at Micklefield near Leeds.
Having added value to the family farm between arable crop cycles by growing strawberries, Annabel invested heavily to switch from growing plants in the ground to a table-top system under her Annabel’s Deliciously British brand which she launched two years ago. Now, she is looking to introduce robots at the end of her strawberry packing lines.
Technology can be a real pain initially to get everyone on board, but if we don’t change with the times we will get left behind. We have to embrace this, especially with the staff shortages we are seeing.
Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland Professor of Rural Economy at the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Rural Economy presented findings from her government and EU research projects into the role of women in agriculture.
She explained that there is still a cultural norm where farms get left to sons and the majority of senior leaders within the industry are men, yet women who have married into farming are heavily influencing farming practices as progressive and innovative entrepreneurs.
They have important roles in decision making and developing alternative income streams. They are also driving regenerative farming. Women marrying in really brings a fresh pair of eyes. They look at the farm differently and they see the opportunities.
Addressing how the role of women can be better recognised, Sally added:
Change isn’t going to happen on its own. We need policies, we need drive, we need Defra (the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs) to take positive action and not only for reasons of equality. To achieve its agricultural vision, it has to start looking at all the players on the bench.
A retail perspective came from Alice Liddle and Sophie Jenkinson from the farming team of Bradford-based supermarket chain Morrisons. They explained how Morrisons is the UK’s biggest food manufacturer, that it sources produce directly from 3,000 British farmer suppliers and it aims to be the first supermarket to be directly supplied by only carbon ‘net zero’ UK farms by 2030.
Alice and Sophie explained how the retailer had sought to support its farmer suppliers during the Covid-19 pandemic by making payments more frequently to its small business suppliers to aid their cashflow.
Reflecting on their personal challenges, Sophie, who is not from a farming background, admitted she suffers from “imposter syndrome” and wants to learn everything there is to know about UK agriculture.
Alice, whose family farm at Stainburn near Harrogate and supply grass-fed Liddle Lamb to Fodder farm shop at the Great Yorkshire Showground, said she deals with her own anxieties by taking time out of the daily hustle and bustle to talk to people she trusts both inside and outside the business.
Wellbeing coach Dr Diane Brown of The Active Wellbeing Academy stressed the importance of recognising the need to harness our wellbeing amid the strains and stresses of a career, and in striving to meet the expectations of others.
Put yourself first, what matters to you. If you are waiting for permission to do something for yourself, I give you that permission now.
The gathering, held on Tuesday (12th October 2021) was drawn to a close by Kate Dale, Co-ordinator of the Women in Farming Network who said:
The overriding message from me is, you have to set yourself apart, mark your work with excellence, make that your goal. It’s a journey, but you will get there. The qualities we all need are determination, resilience, a sense of humour and a willingness to listen and learn.
The Women in Farming Network was created in 2013 following requests from women living and working on farms and related industries. For details, see yas.co.uk/womeninfarming