The future’s bright for the next generation of female farmers

The role of women in farming is changing, paving the way for the next generation of optimistic and ambitious female farmers, reveals a new report by Barclays Agriculture. Despite many farmers having faced a difficult start to the year with adverse flooding impacting thousands of UK farms, nearly nine in ten female farmers (88%) say they are optimistic about the future of their farm – the same figure as men.

The report ‘Women in Farming: The Changing Face of Agriculture in the UK’, which surveyed 1,410 female farmers highlights that women are becoming increasingly important to the future success of UK farms. Latest official figures from the ONS also show the number of female farmers has swelled to 23,000 compared to 19,000 male farmers.

Young and optimistic

The report revealed that it is in fact younger female farmers who are the most optimistic*, with 40% under the age of 24 and 40% of those aged 25 – 34 saying they were very optimistic about the future of their farm, higher than any other female age group. This outlook is also shared by younger female farmers when it comes to the role of women in agriculture in the future. Nearly four in ten (39%) of those under 24 years old are optimistic about the role of women in agriculture in the future, alongside 42% of 25 – 34 year olds – again, more than any other age groups. Technology and improvements in machinery are probably the biggest contributing factor allowing women to take a more dominant role within the industry.

Oliver McEntyre, National Agricultural Specialist commented: “The nature of the farming industry is changing for women, aided by developments in technology there is now less focus on physical strength and more focus on budget and managing the business. As such female farmers have seen their roles change and grow over recent years, leading to increased optimism.

“We have seen the number of female owned farming businesses increase by 3% in recent years, particularly strong in lowland cattle and sheep farms 11% and farm services, excluding vets, 10% and we anticipate further growth over the next 2 – 3 years as well. This increased optimism has resulted in our lending to agricultural businesses increasing by 13% over the past year.

Greatest strengths

The Barclays Agriculture report revealed that female farmers believe their top greatest strengths lie in office management (66%), domestic duties (52%) practical work (42%) and business strategy (40%) and staff management (29%), highlighting the range of areas they now cover. Further still when it comes to practical duties outside of the office 81% say they tend to livestock compared to 66% of men, 66% of women say they undertake young stock management compared to 50% of men, and 25% of women who perform practical duties undertake milking compared to 16% of men.

Extra work

Outside of the farm work, more women also have other employment than men, over a quarter (27%) of women undertake extra employment off the farm but within the agriculture industry – compared to 22% of men. An additional 23% also have other employment in a completely different industry to agriculture, compared to just 12% of male farmers. The main reason cited for the extra work is personal financial need with 33% of women saying this is the case compared to 28% of men.

Minette Batters, National Farmers Union Deputy President said: “There are increasingly more women coming into agriculture, judging by the number in agricultural colleges and universities. There are greater opportunities to be involved in farming-related businesses and the wider industry that doesn’t involve acquiring land – science and retailing, for example. Women have played a key role in many diversification projects, as well as being the backbone of traditional farming practice. I’m not surprised that the survey shows them to be very optimistic about the future”.

Oliver McEntyre, National Agricultural Specialist continued: “Years ago women largely fulfilled the domestic role on farms, and the role they played was very different to today. Now they play a key part in decision making, business strategy as well as physical work on the farm. As our report shows as well, many women often have outside work from farming, meaning they work exceptionally long hours. The next few years are definitely an exciting time for women in the farming industry. It’s clear they are hugely optimistic about their future and the exciting opportunities that are now available to them.”

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