Women in Agriculture research: progress report - 2020-2021

This report provides a progress update on research conducted as part of the Women in Agriculture (WIA) programme between 2020 and 2021. It presents overall findings, current work and outlines future research planned for 2021-2022.

1. Research context

The research outlined in this progress report builds on research previously commissioned by Scottish Government in 2016. This section outlines the findings of this previous research and follow-up research conducted in 2021.

1.1. Women in farming and the agriculture sector

In 2016, the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) commissioned research on 'Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector'. The overall purpose of this research was to establish a baseline position on women in farming and the agriculture sector, to inform future policies to enhance the role of women in these sectors.

The specific aim of this research was to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings: daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership and comparative analysis with women in other family businesses. During the research, the importance of inheritance, training and farm safety also emerged as important issues.

The research comprised of a literature review, nine focus groups, 30 interviews and two online surveys with women who live and/or work on farms in Scotland, and women who are current students or alumnae of agricultural courses at colleges and universities. In total, over 1300 women and 12 men from across Scotland participated. The research was undertaken from June 2016 to March 2017.

Research findings

The research findings were outlined in full in a report (Scottish Government, 2017)[7] and included the following:

  • Women play a major role in Scottish agriculture, participating in the full range of farming activities;
  • The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son is the single biggest barrier to women's entry into agriculture;
  • Women are very under-represented amongst the elected leadership of national-level farming organisations;
  • Lack of time is a major barrier to progressing women's roles on-farm and in farming organisations, and to accessing training (including continuing professional development, knowledge sharing, farm visits and industry events). Women in agriculture are very busy, juggling family responsibilities, farm work, housework, off-farm employment and volunteer work;
  • There is a clear need for more access to, and uptake of, vocational, practical training for women entering agriculture, across a range of topics;
  • Enabling new entrants to establish farms also enables more egalitarian gender relations;
  • Women in family businesses outside of agriculture face far fewer barriers to business involvement and leadership.

1.2. The impact of the 'Women in Agriculture' movement in Scotland: 2016-2021

This project, carried out by researchers at the James Hutton Institute (JHI), aimed to understand the impact of the recommendations of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce and other initiatives on women's experiences in Scottish agriculture, 2016-21.

This project follows on from the research outlined above, with a series of focus groups organised with participants who had taken part in the previous study. The focus groups were held online in March 2021 and involved women and men farmers, crofters, and other representatives of the agricultural industry.

Research findings

The research findings are outlined in the report 'The Changing Role of Women in Farming, Crofting, and the Agricultural Industry: 2016-2021'.[8] The findings include:

  • Participants stated that perceptions of the role of women in farming and the agricultural sector are changing - there are more young women participating in agriculture, running farming businesses and becoming 'independent' farmers/crofters;
  • There has been a significant amount of publicity about women farmers and crofters in mainstream and social media, and the increasing visibility of women in agriculture is viewed positively, however challenges remain, as do concerns around inclusivity and diversity;
  • Whilst succession remains an issue, it does not affect women as much as it once did, and there has been a positive change over time - generational changes, and changing attitudes across generations, are evident;
  • There has been a 'change in the right direction' regarding the level of recruitment and the role of women in agricultural leadership, however many barriers remain (for example, time commitment, women's lack of confidence, cultural attitudes);
  • There has been an increase in the uptake of agricultural training by women, with many online meetings and training opportunities appearing to be women-led - WIA training pilots such as the 'Be Your Best Self' course are viewed positively;
  • Whilst women remain the core providers of childcare on farms and crofts, organisations are more aware of the options to support women's participation in agriculture, for example, meeting online or at alternative times;
  • Participants felt that female role models who have families are important as they demonstrate the potential for women's role in agriculture;
  • In terms of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, home-schooling has impacted on women's ability to work and participate in on-farm activities, tying into wider concerns about the impact of the pandemic on gender roles;
  • The pandemic has led to lost income where farms and crofts have diversified into holiday accommodation.
  • Despite this, female participants who typically work off-farm, and children of all ages, have become more 'connected' and involved with farm activities due to lockdown, and virtual meetings and events have improved accessibility for women in agriculture;
  • Whilst mental health is now being discussed more openly, further attention is needed to mental health and causes of stress within agriculture;
  • A shift towards gender equality in agriculture is progressing with generational change; younger men and women appear 'much more confident', informed and active in developing agricultural businesses;
  • However, younger generations find it difficult to see or understand the bias against women in agriculture that has affected their mothers, and many younger men do not see barriers to women's participation;
  • In terms of the future, female participants described a range of plans, for example, taking part in training, marketing and diversification activities, gaining board and strategic roles in agricultural organisations, mentoring young people and supporting new entrants, expanding farms and developing land management strategies;
  • Female participants also aspired to provide capable women with a higher profile in the agricultural industry, to drive positive change;
  • The perspective was shared that women and young people have an important role to play in increasing diversity in agriculture, overcoming resistance to change, and promoting sustainable innovations;
  • The main barriers to women in agriculture remain access to land for new entrants and the costs of starting new farming/crofting businesses.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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