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Women are a growing force in British farming

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Women are a growing force in British farming

Historically, agriculture was an industry dominated by males, but the number of women entering the world of agriculture in a variety of positions is rising. A new breed of young women are redefining what it means to be a farmer. Modern farming is not all about driving tractors and heavy manual work, it could involve drones, scientific research or even programming GPS driven tractors.

A growing number of women entering agricultural careers

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, show although agriculture is still a male-dominated industry the number of women active in farming has increased to a third, which represents an increase of around 7% over the last ten years.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reports the number of women running farms to be just over 25,000, with more women expected to enter the industry in the near future. Recent Higher Education enrolment figures show that around 25% more women than men have started agricultural related courses. For example, Harper Adams University in Shropshire has found that the number of female agriculture students has doubled in number in the last five years. The Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester reports similar figures, with a 44% increase in female students over the last five years.

Women leading the way for agricultural research and development

The modern agricultural industry is advancing quickly, thanks to research and development which is enhancing farms across the country. It is widely known that innovation within the industry is key to ensuring long-term growth, through improvements in productivity.

The agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is committed to supporting research within the industry, and every year supports a number of PhD studies. The current cohort is 60% female, with the board recently announcing an additional £5 million to assist with PhD research over the next five years the opportunities for those entering the professional are endless.

A growing optimism for women entering agriculture

According to a report issued by the Farmers Weekly, women are optimistic about their future within agricultural careers. A survey found that two-thirds of women felt their pay, benefits and schedule were ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ equal to their male counterparts. Over 2000 women took part in the survey, with 59 percent suggesting they felt agriculture offered the same or better opportunities than other industries.

The survey also revealed that women were more likely to recommend farming as a career, than males involved in farming. This could be attributed to the fact that agriculture is believed to be an accessible career with plenty of opportunities, with only 4% of female respondents believing it was difficult to get a foothold on the career ladder.

Challenging attitudes within the industry

In the past, to work as a successful farmer you needed to be tough and strong to cope with the heavy manual work, which are considered very masculine traits. The shift away from physical labour to the use of the latest technology is changing the nature of farming, with a growing number of women choosing to pursue a career in the industry.

Traditionally, women have held roles behind the scenes on farms, managing the household and any actual farming relief labour was not actually recorded in agriculture statistics. But, today our cultural and legal frameworks have changed, so women are choosing careers in agriculture in their own right.

Farms were once passed through the family within the male line, but today women interested in farming are just as keen to take over. Although women in the industry do tend to gravitate towards the business or research side of the industry, with pressures on farms increasing a new mindset is a welcome attribute on many farms.

High-profile females are changing perceptions of the industry

The changing attitudes could be linked to the number of high profile female within agriculture, which are helping to change the traditional gender stereotypes. A great example is Philippa Hall, who presents the popular Farmers Apprentice, a TV show run by the Farmers Weekly magazine. The show provides a platform for young, bright individuals to gain a foot on the farming ladder. It is clear from the programme that the contestants are both male and female, with the emphasis on success based on determination, knowledge and entrepreneurship.

A report by solicitors' firm Lanyon Bowdler shows that an increasing number of women are being awarded positions of power in the industry. The most striking example is possibly Elizabeth Truss, the Secretary of State of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Another well-known example is Minette Batters, who earlier this year became the first woman ever to hold office in the National Farmers Union, it its 110-year history. Minette grew up on a tenant farm and in 1997 persuaded the landlords that she had the skills needed to take over the tenancy. The farming business began with only 20 Simmental cross suckler cows, but today the herd has grown to over 300 pedigree Hereford Cattle, a flock of sheep, arable land and is even enjoyed by guests as a wedding venue. Minette's struggle to challenge traditional stereotypes in the industry is something which she is determined the next generation will not face.

Agriculture is such a diverse career choice, it is very much brain over brawn when it comes to modern farming. The increasing number of women beginning careers in food and farming represents an exciting time for the industry. Agriculture is like any other industry, it relies on new ideas, skills and talent from both young men and women to provide a sustainable future.

As a professional team of recruiters operating within the agricultural industry, we are benefiting from a wealth of new talent coming into the industry. As the industry becomes more innovative the roles available within agriculture are becoming highly varied, with many new and exciting opportunities. Our range of jobs available includes everything from marketing and sales roles through to engineering and farm management, with new opportunities available daily. If you are interested in finding out more about the careers available to you, please contact our recruitment team today.

If you are looking to progress your career, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are the worldwide recruitment leader in agricultural, food, farming and rural recruitment and have a variety of executive and management positions available within agriculture, horticulture and the food and rural sectors throughout the UK and the rest of the world. To find out more about our agricultural job vacancies and discuss your future career, contact our team of agricultural recruitment professionals. You can visit our website here: or call our team on: 01905 345 155 or email us at:

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