Recent figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that the number of women running farms in the UK jumped by nearly 10% between 2010 and 2013. This trend has continued in the years since and now over 25,000 UK farms are now run by women. What’s more, 28% of the British agricultural workforce is now female.
Defra figures also show that 25% more women than men applied to study agricultural-related courses at universities and colleges in 2015. Additionally, in the past 5 years, the number of female students opting for agriculture at Harper Adams University has doubled.
The Guardian explored this issue further in a recent article featuring interviews with female farmers including Katie Anderson of Muddy Boots Farm in Essex. For her, a career in farming was a “life choice”, a much needed change from her first career in the London property market. She claims that it can be a struggle to shake the notion that “to be a female farmer, you must be a farmer’s wife or a farmer’s daughter. That undermines many women’s hard work and success.”
Female farmers interviewed discuss the issue of strength, many female farmers lack the brute strength to push cows around, but claim that doesn’t stop them working in the agricultural sector. The give tips on how to get animals to do what they want. “A bucket of feed held under their nose is a lot easier than standing behind and pushing them” was one well-made point.
Caroline Millar, a Perthshire farmer and Chair of the Oxford Farming Conference adds that “for all the really heavy lifting jobs, there is always a pallet and a forklift…plus an assortment of machines to help handle cattle.” When commenting on the increase in the number of female farmers in recent years, Millar says “historically, women weren’t encouraged to take over the family farm, but that’s changing. Women in the farming business have historically been farmers’ wives, but why should the word ‘farmer’ mean a male person?”
28-year-old beef and sheep farmer, Lyndsey Martin in Kent, believes that more women are entering the agricultural industry because “there is less of a stigma between male and female jobs, girls are more confident about their choices”.
Tim Wilson who runs the Ginger Pig butchery chain says he never used to hire stockwomen to look after the animals on his North Yorkshire farm but now 75% of his employees are female. His reasons “I find that women are conscientious, have feeling, and are generally kind, which makes their animal husbandry exceptional.”