Agriculture has long been perceived as a male-dominated industry, but recent years have seen a dramatic rise in female farmers. We are lucky to live in an age where the term farmer does not only represent a man.
In the past, women were not encouraged to take over the family farm, but this is changing as many realise and respect women’s capabilities. In 2017, it was reported that the number of women running farms in the UK had jumped up 10%, and this figure has only been increasing. Physicality has traditionally been a major factor, but the growth and development of agricultural technology is opening up the field to more women. Women may sometimes lack the brute force to push cows around, but this should not stop them from working in the agricultural sector. As machines make the need for muscular strength in farming redundant, technology has become the driving force in farming’s feminisation.
Why should we encourage women to consider agricultural careers?
It's clear that women are now playing leading roles in British farming, so it's vital that we continue to encourage the growing presence of women taking on degrees and careers in agriculture to produce an even more diverse and progressive industry.
Farming’s leading ladies
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, women now make up one third of the agricultural sector’s traditionally male-dominant workforce. Many of the hardworking and successful women in farming are driving British agriculture to new frontiers, and key farming organisations are taking on more and more women in senior positions. In 2018, Minette Batters became the first female president of the National Farmers Union of England and Wales in its 110 year history. Batters has become the public face of farming in many parts of Britain, and this sends an empowering message to young women looking for role models and career paths.
Furthermore, the dynamic groups Ladies in Beef and Ladies in Pigs are great examples of women at the forefront of promoting quality British produce at home and overseas.
Abundance of females in agricultural degrees
In 2015, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported that agricultural–related university courses attracted 25% more women than men. Furthermore, all figures show that the number of women studying degrees in agriculture is continuing to grow.
Gone are the days where women did not feel welcome in agricultural colleges - they are now finding much success and acclaim in these degrees.
This increased representation of women in farming is positive and exciting, but it is important to continue to highlight the exponential potential of agricultural degrees so that farming continues to attract new talent and ideas, and harness the skills of both young men and women.
Why agricultural degrees continue to stay relevant and popular
In 2016, farming was reportedly one of the UK's fastest growing university subjects, with more students pursuing agricultural careers than ever before. Despite this, the need for agricultural job seekers is always growing, and there are often not enough graduates to meet the growing demand in food science, agricultural science and agribusiness.
These degrees are not just for farmers or those coming from farming families. Agriculture students have careers in areas as wide as research and technology to marketing and the media. The potential career options span dozens of fields, and degrees can help young men and women find their ideal path.
There are many challenges facing today’s farmers – climate change, market volatility and reliance on subsidies – but these challenges pose new opportunities for research and job roles, and new waves of young students to fill them.
Females leading technological advances
The modern agriculture industry is increasingly reliant on highly advanced technology and scientific discoveries. Women are gradually becoming the leaders of innovations that enhance British farming.
Female scientists from all over the UK are undertaking insightful agricultural projects, such as the PhD students leading the experiments into microchipping slugs at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. Through their experiments they aim to gain further insight into slug patch formations. By using precise targeting, the results should help farmers reduce the pesticides they use on crops.
Warwick PhD student Kathryn Hales is hoping to find a solution to beat cavity spot, one of the dominant diseases plaguing carrots and causing millions of pounds worth of damage every year. She plans to use DNA methods to identify and track the pathogen in soil, which will hopefully serve as a more reliable method than the ones currently possible.
In Nottingham, Masters student Katie Fitzgerald is part of a research partnership between AHDB Dairy and the University of Nottingham. She monitors and interprets dairy cow behaviour, hoping to eventually use the information from her research to improve the welfare and comfort of dairy cows.
Why is there still a need for more women in farming?
There are so many ways that women have achieved gender equality in the agricultural industry. Despite the leadership, educational and technological triumphs of many females, women continue to face barriers when starting or building careers in the industry. For instance, according to DEFRA, women made up only 14.9 per cent of registered farm holders in the UK in 2016. This emphasises the continued importance of encouraging female enrolment in agricultural degrees, and normalising farming as a serious career choice for women.
As long as women continue to choose degrees and apprenticeships in agriculture, young female farmers will be armed with the technical, scientific, business and financial knowledge to not only close in on gender equality targets, but be part of an industry that will keep the world’s food plentiful and care for the environment for many years to come.
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