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.


The literature review identified many reasons for policy to be concerned about gender inequalities in agriculture, particularly the shortage of information on women's roles on farms and the limited representation of women in farming organisations. Scottish Government concerns are similar to those of the European Union and national governments ( e.g. Australia, Northern Ireland).

The new empirical research demonstrated:

Daily Life

  • Women's daily lives are very varied, with activities depending on stage in the life cycle, type of farm, off-farm work, and whether they work full-time. In general, farm women are very busy, juggling childcare, farm work, housework, and off-farm work. Women often organise off-farm work around the needs of the farm ( e.g. taking holidays from off-farm work during the lambing season).
  • Women are clearly involved in the full range of farming activities, most commonly family care/household management (85%), running errands (79%), administration and book keeping (67%), and livestock care in various forms (65%). This is largely consistent with the skills they identified contributing to their farms.
  • Over half of main survey respondents work off-farm; some 40% of main survey respondents volunteer (in both cases, about 40% of these activities are within the agricultural sector).
  • New entrants (both men and women) work particularly long hours, and are very dynamic and committed ( e.g. the new entrants interviewed worked full-time off-farm, in addition to establishing their farm holdings)
  • This 'busy-ness' can represent a barrier to women's career progression ( i.e. limiting the time available to participate in leadership activities, on and off-farm).

Career Paths

  • Experiencing agriculture in childhood clearly impacts on future engagement in the industry. Just over half of the participants (54%) in the main survey and 38% of student and alumni respondents were raised on farms; a further 16% and 25% respectively reported that although they were not raised on a farm, they had spent a lot of time on farms growing up. About 30% of the main survey and 25% of the student and alumni respondents had not been raised on farms.
  • There are two distinct career paths for women in farming: those who enter farming and the agriculture sector by choice (including through land inheritance/farm succession), and those who 'marry a farmer' (or similarly become part of a farming family) and enter the occupation as a result.
  • Women who are farming by choice are highly motivated, tend to be new entrants, highly educated, often with an agriculture sector background, as well as characteristically innovative and hard working.
  • Women who marry into farming are: also innovative and hardworking but can also bring 'fresh eyes' to farming activities, can be able to be more detached and less emotive about the farm business, more likely to contribute with their off-farm income, bringing off-farm employment skills to the farm.


  • Main survey respondents believe their role on farms is very important (90%), but some 35% think their career is progressing more slowly than they would like and 41% reported that their skills are under-utilised on their farms.
  • Over half of main survey respondents have a role in both day to day decision-making and major decisions on their farms, but 20% reported that they had no role in decision-making. Some 53% would like a bigger role in decision-making.
  • Some 77% of survey respondents would like to see more women involved in leadership of farming organisations. Thirty-five per cent were personally interested in becoming more involved in leadership themselves. This was consistent with the student and alumni survey, where 32% expressed interest in future involvement with agricultural organisations.
  • Main survey respondents identified 'lack of time' as the major barrier to advancing their roles on farm (72%), followed by the need to prioritise childcare (54%), lack of financial resources (52%), lack of opportunities (46%) and perceived lack of skills (46%).
  • For students and alumni, 'lack of opportunities' was most commonly identified (58%), followed by 'women are not seen as agricultural experts' (49%), the need to prioritise childcare (50%), and perceived lack of skills (36%).
  • Approximately 29% of main survey and 20% of student and alumni respondents would like to start or expand a diversification activity on-farm in the next five years. This interest was particularly marked amongst crofting respondents (38% expressed interest in developing diversification activities).
  • Amongst the students and alumni, 'interesting subject' was by far the most common response to the question of why they undertook agricultural education (80%). Half of students and alumni indicated that they had studied agriculture in order to get the job they wanted. A much smaller cohort sought to prepare to work on the family farm (13%) or to run their own farm (24%).


  • The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son is considered the single biggest barrier to women's entry into agriculture. Cultural constraints are such that women are unlikely to inherit land unless they do not have a brother: the normal expectation is that sons inherit farmland.
  • Particular issues were raised about women on tenanted crofts. Only one tenant can be named and it is reported that this tends to be the male partner/spouse. In an instance of divorce, female spouses can lose access to the family home on the croft.
  • Some men in this survey suggested that women select themselves out of careers in farming; research in Scotland demonstrates that this de-selection is often socialised from childhood, through parental discouragement of female engagement in farming activities (Fischer and Burton, 2014).


  • Women are significantly underrepresented in farming organisations ( e.g. NFU Scotland, RHASS, and the National Sheep Association have few women in elected positions). In many cases there are whole committees and boards that do not have a single female member.
  • Lack of time available due to working off-farm was the most common barrier to participation in agricultural organisation leadership identified by survey participants (26%). This was followed closely by 'lack of confidence in own skills' (23%). 'Not welcome by existing male leaders' was identified as a barrier by 18%, with lack of financial resources to allow time away from on-farm activities identified by 15%; 13% reported that they had to prioritise childcare instead.
  • Both men and women spoke explicitly about discrimination, particularly in agricultural industry organisations and events. Some men active in farming organisations who participated in a focus group stated that they believed men would not vote for women to have committee or board positions.
  • The qualitative research revealed a number of examples of exclusionary practices ( e.g. some agricultural buyers have dinners for male buyers, women reported being asked to leave meetings once the social component, i.e. dinner, was finished).
  • Some women reported a lack of confidence and feeling intimidated in all-male environments; even some reportedly confident women, such as new entrants, feel intimidated in the environment and not taken seriously.
  • The Scottish Association of Young Farmer Clubs ( SAYFC) represents the most common provider of leadership experience to women in agriculture - some 35% of respondents reported having been members, and 19% had been in SAYFC leadership.
  • Women who inherit farm land are statistically more likely to be interested in becoming leaders of farming organisations.


  • Although the highest level of demand is for training in applying for grants, the research identified a clear need for more vocational, practical training for women entering agriculture. Over 200 survey respondents identified their interest in further training in each of: livestock husbandry, animal health, accounting, business entrepreneurship, large vehicle driving, environmental protection and legal compliance.
  • Existing Continuing Professional Development ( CPD) training is perceived as oriented towards men. Women, even women working in the agriculture sector, found attending CPD events daunting. About a quarter of survey respondents agreed that they would be uncomfortable at an agricultural training course because they are mostly attended by men.
  • Women working in the agriculture sector have access to CPD through their employment and they all find it useful for their farm. Those who 'married in' to the farm appeared to have less access to CPD. They said they would have particularly valued training soon after entering farming.
  • Both men and women recognised the particular implications for women of not receiving practical training. It cannot be assumed that women have the same exposure to on-the-job training growing up on the farm as men.

Farm Safety

  • Women are generally perceived to be risk-averse (Sundheim, 2013) but the research did not find this to be the case.
  • Women sometimes take risks to prove they are as able to farm as men.
  • Having the right size and weight of equipment for women to farm safely ( e.g. livestock handling systems, protective clothing) is an issue, and an area that requires further research.
  • Women, especially new entrants, often become the primary farmer when children are young. Women reported taking risks while fulfilling childcare responsibilities and farming activities simultaneously.

Comparative Analysis with Other Family Businesses

  • Like women in farming and the agriculture sector, the women interviewed had varied career paths into their businesses, and they also juggled home life with their business activities. Women continue to have primary responsibility for childcare and domestic duties and this has to be managed alongside business careers.
  • In general, for those involved in this study there were no issues for women to be involved in business associations. Many held senior positions in their business-related organisations. This is completely different to farm organisations.
  • One woman spoke about the gender imbalance in waste management organisations, a traditionally male dominated and 'masculine' occupation. She noted that the number of women was increasing and organisations are conscious of gender equality and the need to have women on committees.
  • There were no noted issues accessing business-related training. This is very different to the situation for farm women.
  • Women combine childcare with their work, sometimes bringing their children to their work environment. Unlike farming, there are typically far less safety issues arising as a result of this practice.
  • Inheritance of businesses and/or resources was not noted to be a barrier to women's entry into businesses. This was not the case for women in farming.


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