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.


Critical analysis of the study findings, contextualised against academic and non-academic literature, has led the contractors to make the following recommendations:


  • Practical, hands-on training programmes need to be targetted at women.
  • Short courses for women who are new to farming (particularly those who have married into farming) should be developed.
  • Financial training and management courses should be targetted at women.
  • When designing training programmes, attention must be given to women's other commitments and child care responsibilities.

Tackling Conscious and Unconscious Bias

  • 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 farm families to treat women more equally in inheritance.
  • Farming organisations must 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 tackle conscious and unconscious bias.
  • Incentives should be provided to encourage women to take up farm apprenticeships, for example, providing support for childcare, actively recruiting female apprentices. Increasing the exposure of girls and young women to farming and associated opportunities early in life can enable them to develop positive associations.
  • The practice of only having one named tenant on a croft should be revisited in light of associated gender inequalities. 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.

New Entrants

  • More land should be 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 or 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

  • Action is urgently required to increase women's participation in farming organisations.
  • A quota system should be introduced to ensure women's representation in farming organisations. We recommend that 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).
  • Women specific tables at NFUS and other farming events and meetings (for a fixed amount of time) could give women the confidence to fully engage in meetings.
  • Attention should be given to the Canadian Farm Women's Network's Talent Bank model. The CFWN created a 'talent bank' of suitably qualified women to hold farming organisation positions, and when positions became available/were up for election, they worked with farming organisations to promote these women for positions on boards or as directors.
  • Mechanisms should be identified 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

  • Women's diversification activities should be supported through grants and training for women in farming. 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.
  • The diversity of women's diversification activities should be 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

  • The unusual inheritance patterns in Scotland need to be challenged. It allows the continuation of a cultural norm of passing on the farm intact to one son, perpetuating the understanding of farming as a male activity.
  • 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

  • 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).
  • Incentives to use childcare facilities should be targeted at farming couples.
  • Further research is needed to consider how to plan a farmyard for women, ageing farmers, and possibly also farmers with disabilities.


Back to top