Call for changes to aid female farmers
ONE-THIRD of farmers are women, but they are still being held back from top jobs in agriculture, including the NFUS, according to a new report,
Women in Farming and Agricultural Sector, produced by Newcastle University and James Hutton Institute, and commissioned by the Scottish Government, is the first major investigation into issues facing women in the agricultural sector in Scotland.
It found women play a major role in Scottish agriculture, participating in the full range of farming activities, but that they face far more barriers to business involvement and leadership than women in other family businesses.
The single biggest barrier to women’s entry into agriculture, the report argued, is the cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son. It recommends this custom needs to be challenged and other models explored: in the rest of Europe, for example, it is not possible to disinherit other children. In the UK, there is no legal restriction against multiple inheritance or bequests to daughters.
It also found succession planning is poor and families are reluctant to discuss it together, recommending that professional advice should be offered to all farm families.
Lack of time was also found to be a major barrier to advancing women’s roles on farms and in farming organisations, and to access training.
The study recommended practical, hands- on training programmes be made accessible to women through flexible scheduling, childcare availability and online components.
It argued women are ‘ very under-represented’ among the elected leadership of nationallevel farming organisations.
Although more than onethird of farm operators are women, the NFUS has no women among its national office-holders, regional board chairmen or committee chairmen. Women have more proportionate elected representation in the Scottish Crofting Federation, however, where three out of nine board members are female.
Approximately 18 per cent of main survey respondents identified ‘not welcome by existing male leaders’ as a barrier to their participation in leadership of farming organisations. The report recommended that conscious and unconscious bias needs to be addressed in farming organisations, for example by introducing a 30 per cent quota system for farming organisation boards and committees, and establishing a ‘talent bank’ of suitably qualified women for farming positions.
Enabling new entrants to establish farms also enables more egalitarian gender relations, it reported: when men and women enter agriculture together, through buying or renting together at the outset, more equal gender relations exist. It advised more land should be made available for new entrants, for example on Crown Estate Scotland land, from large estates, and through a ‘matching service’ with older farmers. The practice of only having one named tenant on a croft should be revisited to critically evaluate the gender implications.
A new group to ensure women are better represented in farming was subsequently announced by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, at the Royal Highland Show. ‘ This report is a welcome insight into Scotland’s agricultural sector,’ Ms Sturgeon said.
‘ While the report recognises the hugely valuable role that women play in our farming sector, it also highlights some significant challenges that are holding women back from playing an equal and equitable role in agriculture. And these need to be addressed.
‘That is why I am delighted to announce this taskforce to look in depth at the report’s recommendations to ensure the potential of women in farming is realised to better represent the forward-facing, 21st- century Scotland in which we live.’
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick commented: ‘This report from the Scottish Government shows that there are barriers that stop some women taking on high profile roles in our industry, and this is something that both the industry and NFU Scotland want to address.
‘This autumn we will be hosting a number of events, aimed at women in agriculture, across Scotland, which will be the next step in this process for us.’
Gilly Dixon-Spain and her husband Roger farm on the isle of Lismore.