Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report

Findings and recommendations from research into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.

11 Recommendations

The following recommendations developed from the research conducted 2016/17. These follow the format in which the Scottish Government requested the report. This is a different format from the summary document which lists recommendations in order of priority.

Education and Training

  • We recommend that how to make training available to women is given careful thought. Training and qualifications are necessary to qualify for a number of agricultural grants.
  • In particular, financial training and management courses should be targeted at women. Training in grant application and accounting were the first and fourth (respectively) most commonly identified training requests. Marketing was also identified by 150 women. Both men and women spoke of women's ability to 'think outside the box'. Men spoke about how women can be more objective about the farm business, because they are not steeped in tradition and the same intergenerational responsibilities (previous research bears this out too, but it is not clear if this only relates to women who have 'married in' to farming). Men spoke about how women have a better financial grasp of what is going on, and when hard financial decisions have to be made, women understand what is happening and are more practical about finding a solution, while men can pursue strategies of denial.
  • Practical, hands-on training programmes need to be developed and targeted at women. It cannot be assumed that women acquired this training on a farm whilst growing up. Both men and women described how practical experience is often passed to the boys rather than the girls. There is merit too in ensuring external practical training is provided to prevent the intergenerational transfer of bad practices.
  • When designing training programmes, attention must be given to women's other commitments and child care responsibilities. Women spoke of the need for flexibility around the delivery of short courses in order to facilitate child care and other family responsibilities.
  • We recommend that short courses are developed and targeted at women who have married into farming. Women spoke about how useful this type of provision would have been to them.
  • Increasing the exposure of girls and young women to farming and associated opportunities early in life can enable them to develop positive associations.

Tackling Conscious and Unconscious Bias

  • We recommend that the cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son needs to be challenged. It is the single biggest barrier to women's entry into agriculture, and perpetuates the understanding of farming as a male occupation. Opening up discourses about farm succession and offering access to formal advice could help to enable women to be treated equally on inheritance.
  • The practice of only having one named tenant on a croft should be revisited. In an instance of divorce, women can lose access to the family home on the croft. Explicitly considering gender implications of proposed legislative changes ( i.e. 'gender-proofing') would be useful.
  • We recommend that farming organisations tackle the poor representation of women. Quotas of female representation are recommended and women mentors should be established to provide support to both male and female apprentices. This will help to tackle conscious and unconscious bias.
  • We recommend that farming organisations promote women mentors. Women spoke of the need to promote women role models, we suggest it is important to do this through the mainstream business of farming, as well as through this awareness raising project of women in agriculture. Women mentors should provide mentoring to both men and women apprentices. Women should be actively recruited, and incentivised if necessary.
  • We also recommend that incentives are provided to encourage women to take up farm apprenticeships, for example, providing support for childcare, actively recruiting female apprentices.

New Entrants

  • We recommend that more land is made available for new entrants. These are a particularly dynamic group and this research, along with research from elsewhere (including the USA), shows that when men and women enter agriculture together (through buying/ renting together at the outset) more equal gender relations exist.
  • The Starter Farms organised by the Forestry Commission seem to offer women a route into farming that might otherwise be unavailable. The Forestry Commission scheme is small, and we recommend that other routes are pursued to provide starter farms, such as by private landlords, and on Crown Estate Scotland land.
  • Establishing a 'matching service' to connect farmers with available land and infrastructure to new entrants could also be beneficial. This service exists in England ( www.freshstartlandenterprise.org.uk) and the Republic of Ireland ( http://landmobility.ie).
  • Options of renting breeding stock and machinery should be developed to make this a more feasible route for young people (and thus young women), to enter agriculture.

Farming Organisations

  • Women are significantly underrepresented in farming organisations ( i.e. NFU Scotland, RHASS, and the National Sheep Association). In many cases there are whole committees that do not have a single female member. Action is urgently required to increase women's participation in farming organisations.
  • We recommend a quota system is introduced to ensure women's representation in farming organisations. This is necessary to counter both conscious and unconscious bias in farming organisations. We recommend all committees have a minimum of 30% women. 30% is acknowledged as the critical mass needed to change the culture of a committee (Dahlerup, 1988).
  • We recommend a programme of measures to increase women's participation in farming organisations. One suggestion that merits consideration is to have women-specific tables NFUS and other farming events and meetings (for a fixed amount of time) to give women the confidence to fully engage in meetings.
  • We recommend that attention is given to the Canadian Farm Women's Network's Talent Bank model. The CFWN created a 'talent bank' of suitably qualified women to sit in farming positions, and when positions became available/ were up for election, they worked with farming organisations to promote these women for positions on boards/ as directors.
  • We recommend considering mechanisms to ensure progression from the SAYFC to the NFUS Council. We recommend that a number of progression positions are created specifically for people progressing from the SAYFC.
  • Some women spoke of their desire for some kind of farm women's network as a source of support. We recommend that if women-only networks and activities are supported, they should happen through the mainstream farming organisations, and not be separate fringe events.

Farm Diversification Activities

  • We recommend that women's diversification activities are supported through grants and training. Women's ability to 'think outside the box' was also evident in the range of farm diversification or new farm activities they brought to the farm business ( e.g. specialty sheep breeding, yogurt making, and agricultural environmental schemes). These supports will be particularly beneficial in crofting regions.
  • We recommend that the diversity of women's diversification activities are acknowledged and supported accordingly, for example, through grants and training courses. Previous research has noted that women undertake farm diversification activities differently to men - they tend to be small-scale and fit around caring responsibilities, and policies need to note these differences. The women involved in this project in the Orkney Islands were aware that their markets become saturated, so a market drying up and moving on to another activity is not seen as a failure. They are not interested in being a commercial enterprise, but rather in supplementing the farm income. Policy needs to be sensitive to the different needs of farm diversification, and flexible enough to support multiple diversification activities over the life course of the farm.

Inheritance and Succession

  • While inheritance is the transfer of the asset, succession is the transfer of the occupation. Each requires different recommendations and the following relate to succession.
  • Farm succession planning is a highly sensitive issue. It was repeatedly raised as a difficult subject to broach. The older generation spoke of their children's reluctance to discuss succession with them. The younger generation spoke of concern about the uncertainty around succession, and not knowing if they would receive the farm that they are currently farming. Awareness raising, advice and support needs to be developed. Succession planning was not an issue for other family businesses.
  • Awareness raising, support and advice about the importance of succession planning should be offered to farm families.

Farm Safety

  • We recommend that awareness about farm safety needs to be increased for everyone on farms. In particular it should be targeted at women, especially young women. In this study it is the case that many young women take on full-time farming duties when they have small children.
  • Financial incentives should be made available for farms to purchase equipment appropriate for women. This also related to ageing farmers. This equipment can be smaller (quad bikes), or mobile (gates on wheels). Further research is needed to consider how to plan a farmyard for women, ageing farmers, and possibly also farmers with disabilities.
  • We recommend that incentives to use childcare facilities are targeted at farming couples.

Concluding Comments

This research is the first of its kind in Scotland. It is a very rich data set and there are far more findings than are possible to report in a document of this length. The research team are happy to work with any relevant parties to develop fact sheets on specific areas of interest. We will do this as part of the dissemination activities of the study.


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