Is sexism in farming a thing of the past?

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Every day we are told that agriculture needs more new entrants and more females but in light of this month’s up and coming Women In Farming Seminar held at Agri-Expo I thought I would see for myself how many of the farming females that I know have struggled due to their sex.

There aren’t many things on farms that women cannot do anymore, the development of machinery has seen to that, but why is it that so many females are struggling to get their welly boot in the door and progress in a career in agriculture?

Before my time working at South East Farmer I worked on a number of farms for many years. My favourite was working alongside another female farmer because apart from becoming great friends, she understood. We had an excellent girl power motto. She used to get ‘stick’ from male family members on the farm but she just carried on being great at her job with just as much skill and knowledge as them.

I distinctly remember one lambing job I applied for while studying at Cirencester. I turned up for the interview and the first question he asked me was, “will you be alright turning over a sheep, they’re big”. I offered to show him then and there to which he politely declined but subsequently a man was offered the job instead.

Women are the backbone of the rural economy in many countries, and how could we forget the Women’s Land Army, who donned their wellington boots and saved a nation from starving when 170,000 farmers went to fight for our freedom during the war. If they could accept female farmers, why do so many struggle to now? Well stereotyping can’t all be to blame, the amount of females I know that are willing to get up at dawn, to get rained, pooed and peed on are… well very few.

So despite my own experiences, I thought I’d talk to some of these ladies, maybe it was just me? Or maybe sexism in farming is by no means a thing of the past.

Colleen Mccann, a Royal Agriculture University student, 21, from County Armagh in Ireland

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I grew up on a suckler beef farm in Ireland and at the all-girls grammar school I attended it was totally unheard of for a girl to study agriculture at university. It was never something that was brought up or encouraged at career days and it’s generally thought of as a job for stupid people.

In Ireland you go to market and you’re the only female there. In my house there’s three girls and a boy, yet it is always the boy that gets asked about the farm, no one ever considers that the girls might know more.

My second year of university required a 20 week work placement and finding one at home in Ireland with really good experience was almost impossible, but as soon as I applied for two in England I was offered places at both.

Women in farming is certainly more accepted in England than it is in Ireland but I think they both have a long way to go.

Lydia Aldridge, 22, from Essex

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Growing up on an arable farm in Essex I have a lot of experience in machinery and engineering. At LAMMA Show this year I found it hard to be treated seriously because I’m not only female, but I’m also young.

This is not uncommon, and is something I am used to. Last year at Cereals I went round to ask some companies to send me some quotes on kit, as we were thinking of doing some potatoes. It wasn’t until a few weeks after that I realised a lot of them never bothered to send me them. Their ignorance lost them money.

Some people just don’t seem to get that you’re a girl, and you like machinery!

Lorna Evans, a Royal Agricultural University student, 21, from Devon

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Unfortunately I am not lucky enough to have grown up on a farm as much as I wished to. I never thought I would have gone down the farming route, but doing a Level 3 Diploma in Countryside Management it then influenced me to pursue a career in agriculture.

This brought me to the RAU to study a degree in agriculture, which I’m now in my third and final year of.

Last summer I undertook a work placement at BASF as a trials assistant. This was very physical work and included carrying 50 litres of fuel around the field.

This was my first experience in agronomy which is known to be a competitive, male dominant industry due to the strenuous work involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed my work placement and seeing the surprised look on farmers faces when they saw a girl doing the job so well.

I got a lot of comments about being female which was irritating but I suppose it’s part of farming banter and you just have to learn to put up with it.

I think a lot people think women are treated the same in the workplace but they’re not. During harvest when all the men were out on their machines ruling the fields, the look on their faces when they saw a woman on a combine was a picture.

Sally Shepherd, 23, from Surrey

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I didn’t grow up on a farm or come from any kind of farming background but when my school spent a week on a farm run by a charity called Farms For City Children, which aims to teach children from urban backgrounds about agriculture, I was hooked.

This led me to enroll on a two year agriculture course at Hadlow College.

I have experienced a wealth of sexism since entering the industry, ranging from being told I shouldn’t be welding because I’m a girl, to struggling to compete for jobs over men. After a lot of determination, and two years of trying, I’ve now landed my dream job on a sheep farm in Wales and am loving every minute. This kind of backwards behavior and ignorance needs to stop if new entrants are to be encouraged. If we can’t adapt to females in farming we can’t be expected to progress as an industry.

Rachel Churches, 19, from Somerset

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I grew up on a dairy and beef farm on the Somerset Levels and since the day I was born I was being pushed around in a pram looking at all the animals on our farm.

After I finished school I studied a three year extended diploma in Agricultural Management, at Hartpury College. As part of the course I had a placement year where I got the opportunity to work on a beef, sheep and small arable farm. It was good to see other ways of farming and be able to experience driving tractors, and be involved in the harvest and cultivation work.

Having finished my placement year I studied my final year at college, and decided to further my career and travel to New Zealand.

So that’s where I am today, working for a big contractor in south west Canterbury, Hayden Mckenzie. Being involved driving a lot bigger machinery, having various jobs, such as raking, bale stacking, truck driving, baling and recently grain hauling with the chaser bin has been a great opportunity to come right the other side of the world and gain experience and see the different ways of farming, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Working alongside 25 other male workers, has really made me realise that it’s not just a male dominant industry, I feel more than capable of most jobs they would take part in, and I think some of them are surprised what females really can do given the opportunity.

My dream career would teach the younger generation more about farming and get them involved in the industry. I feel farming is not promoted enough in England, despite it becoming more and more important.

This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online: http://www.southeastfarmer.net/section/alice-blog/is-sexism-in-farming-a-thing-of-the-past

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