Treating female farmers equally

Friday, 6 March, 2020

UFU communication officer Tracey Donaghey gives her first woman in agriculture blog

Last week Minette Batters was re-elected as NFU president and when I worked as a journalist before joining the UFU, I had the pleasure of interviewing Minette. It was the last interview I carried out before moving from Irish Country Living (Irish Farmers Journal) to the UFU communications team.

Minette told me of how her father didn’t think women should farm, but it’s safe to say it did little to hold her back. If anything, it sparked an uncanny determination that would see her reviving her parent’s farming partnership with their landlords, diversifying the business and going down in history as the first female NFU president.

One of Minette’s quotes that stuck with me from our conversation is: “The success for all women will be when being a woman in farming isn’t newsworthy.” I couldn’t agree more.

In 1918 UK Parliament passed an act enabling women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification to vote. This historic moment was a result of the Women’s Suffrage, a movement to fight for women’s right to vote which made headlines in local and national papers.

Not news

No one forgets what the suffragettes endured to allow us to cast our vote, but women voting in elections is no longer considered ‘newsworthy’, which brings me back to Minette’s point.

Women in Agriculture has become somewhat of a movement with a trending hashtag and ‘she who dares farms’ NFU Cymru merchandise, not to mention the UFU Women in Agriculture conference.

While men and women have been farming for millenniums women have lingered in the shadows of their fathers, husbands and brothers for generations. Everyone is all too familiar with the traditional attitude that the eldest son should inherit the farm, leaping over older sisters to be first in line.

Stereotype

Traditional habits and views are wretched things to shake and, when growing up with three brothers, I wrestled with the stereotype that girls where meant to stay at home and help their mothers.

My Dad is a part-time farmer and when we were growing up, he would have suited and booted us four in our wellies and boiler suits each Saturday.

One day, when I was around ten years old, he asked me to stay at home and help my Mum with housework. I protested that I shouldn’t have to stay whilst my three brothers got to go to the farm.

I was all about equality even back then and thankfully my parents were too, which allowed my Saturdays on the farm to continue. Looking back, I can’t blame my Dad for trying to get my Mum extra help though.

Moving on to secondary school it still wasn’t seen as ‘feminine’ or ‘cool’ for a girl to be into farming, so I didn’t shout about it from the roof tops. Being from the countryside caused a big enough stir and all us rural kids were tarred with the same brush, labelled as ‘culchies’ by the ‘townies’ but at least they didn’t differentiate by gender.

The odd farming conversation still took place on the Monday morning bus journey to school when my best friends and I would talk about the weekend which included helping our Dads to move sheep. There was just no getting away from the farming lifestyle, it chose us.

Role model

I love the phrase ‘be who you needed when you were younger’ and maybe I should have probed Minette about this. Her public role in the farming industry is vital for the development of the industry and, while I am unsure if there was someone in the sector who inspired her when she was growing up, there was no female agri figure that I looked up to when I was young.

Thankfully those times are changing. The number of women working in agriculture is rising and across the island of Ireland women are managing family farms that have been inherited from their parents, upholding leadership roles within agri bodies and more young females are choosing to study agriculture degrees.

Alongside Minette, journalist Mairead Lavery (former Irish Country Living editor), Mash Direct director Tracy Hamilton, third generation sheep farmer Joyce Bannerman-Campbell and former executive director of Agri Aware Deirdre O’Shea, are just a few of the women who I admire on absolute merit today.

Supporting women in ag  

Supporting women in farming the UFU held its first Women in Agriculture conference last year. The reopening of the Next Generation committee has gained great interest from female farmers and going forward we are working towards better diversity on our committees.

We supported Februdairy 2020 and agri-student and dairy farmer Jessica Pollock, used her social media platform to showcase the vast extent of the care and effort that goes into producing milk.

The UFU will continue to put the spotlight on women in ag, raising their profile, recognising their contributions and enabling them to reap the opportunities that our industry has to offer. Not only will this benefit our women, but it will advance our farming industry for the better and have a positive impact on our NI economy.

Although the irony is that the end goal needs to be when working in agriculture as a female is no longer newsworthy. When a woman milking cows or drawing silage no longer creates a stop and stare moment. When our agriculture industry embodies equality and credits on merit alone. As Minette said: “as women farmers we just want to be treated equally.”