Farming Sector should Encourage more Women into the Industry

The farming sector needs to encourage more female participation in the industry and promote the significant role of women already working in agriculture. Those were the key messages at today’s Women in Agriculture event hosted by Scotland’s Rural College at the Royal Highland Show.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, kicked off proceedings by launching plans for Scottish Government research into women working in farming industries.

He said: “We have commissioned this research to identify the challenges and come up with policy initiatives to improve women’s participation in farming. In particular the contribution women make to agriculture in Scotland and the wider rural economy which is not always visible.”

Professor Sally Shortall, has been commissioned by the Scottish Government to carry out the research, assisted by colleagues at the James Hutton Institute.

“While we will focus on identifying the issues and producing actual policy recommendations to help improve the situation; the study is not anti-men or about positive discrimination,” Sally explained. “It is about it is about improving the efficiency and economic viability of the farm and farming.”

Many of the other speakers echoed that message, that women in the sector were not interested in special treatment, merely for their skills and experience to be recognised and put to good use supporting the industry.

Gemma Thomson, Legal and Technical Policy Manager at NFU Scotland, said: “Promoting women in agriculture is not a new thing, but it is now building into a positive force. What we don’t want is positive discrimination however. That would be negative. But agriculture needs to be much better at promoting itself as a real career choice for females.”

SRUC Board Member and Vet Kate Richards noted that: “Women often feel they have to be better and give more to be taken seriously. That is an image that needs to change with women accepted as equals.”

Fergus Ewing also spoke of need to change perceptions. He said: “What we need to achieve is to change that image of the average Scottish farmer – being older and male.”

With over hundred women (and a few men) in the room, and seven inspirational female speakers, it is clear that that image is not necessarily a true representation of the industry. However, many of those at the event felt more needs to be done to encourage women into the sector, both those from a farming background, and those who might consider themselves ‘outsiders’.

One such ‘outsider’, SAOS’s Emma Patterson Taylor, said: “There are many advantages you can bring as an ‘outsider’ – you look at things from a different perspective and are not bound by the way it has always been done.”

SRUC’s Acting CEO and Principal, Janet Swadling, was also new to the sector when she joined SRUC twenty years ago. She concluded the event by saying: “I did not come from a farming background, but I am absolutely passionate about what I do, and am proud to have led the national college for the land-based sector for two and a half years.

“I think as an industry we all need to do more to promote the great work being done by women and men in the agricultural sector, and try and get more young women in particular studying and working in this field.”


Latest Articles