Modern agricultural lives were proudly brought to the fore at the Women In Farming Network’s Autumn Gathering at the Great Yorkshire Showground, as members of the farming community were reminded to be kind to themselves amid changes in the industry.
The Women In Farming Network is supported by farming charity the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to bring rural women together in the spirit of support and celebration.
Aand the Network’s flagship annual Autumn Gathering did just that with more than 120 delegates attending the event at Pavilions of Harrogate this week (Tuesday 11th October) to enjoy lunch, networking and to hear from inspiring speakers (pictured below).
Women have always had a vital role on family farms but the ways in which they are contributing to, and leading, the industry is increasingly innovative, as demonstrated by Becca Wilson and Lizzie McLaughlin.
Boots & Heels
Becca and Lizzie co-host the hugely popular Boots & Heels podcast which has evolved into video form in its third season and takes valuable insights into British agriculture to a wide audience.
Becca, 27, (pictured below) the fifth generation of a farming family in North Yorkshire, left the farm to study at university.
After early career ventures working for a rural surveyor and then a poultry equipment supplier – where she and Lizzie met and became firm friends – Becca now works on the family’s 600-acre mixed arable and sheep farm where the family is embracing data innovations to make their business more sustainable.
I often get asked, why did you go off and get a Degree and a Masters if you just want to be a farmer?
Well, actually, there’s no such thing as just a farmer and regardless of your background, whether it’s academic, you’re at ag college or whether you have never set foot on a farm in your life, there’s potential for a career in agriculture.
(By working on the podcast) we’re finding, every day, different variants in things, in computer science or engineering, agronomy… there’s a multitude of careers that you can do.
Co-host Lizzie grew up in Teesside and is not from a farming background. She recalled reading children’s stories as a child which depicted farmers as “the stereotypical older gentleman with his sheep dog and flat cap”.
For me, agriculture wasn’t seen as a career, but since working with Becca, I’ve realized how many different careers there are.
She said her job at the poultry equipment supplier after finishing university as a stepping-stone into a different career, but she has stayed in agriculture, not only producing the podcast but as a writer for Farmers Weekly, which has now acquired Boots & Heels.
Lizzie (pictured above) added:
The more I was in the industry, and the more I was talking to people behind our produce, there was so many amazing females and people and job.
Just going to the shops to get some eggs or milk, the backstory behind that is incredible, so started to share stories which is a great passion of mine.
Information, challenge and support
John Pinches, Regional Agricultural Manager for Yorkshire & North-East England at Barclays UK, explained that the bank was working to support vulnerable customers, including farming businesses, during the cost-of-living crisis.
The Savills team – Rebecca Housam, Hannah Turner and Georgina Sweeting, pictured in action below – recommended that farming businesses take stock of “what you have got, where you have got it and what you are thinking of doing” to establish a baseline position, and consider options such as exploring permitted development opportunities for under-used assets and alternative ways to secure income through diversification.
National Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters spoke to delegates via a video message.
Outlining recent meetings with the new Prime Minister and Defra Ministers, Minette said she was heartened to hear more about food security and a balance between food production and the environment.
Be kind to yourself
Business and leadership coach Andrea Morrison (pictured below) offered a timely message of resilience.
Andrea, a former employment law barrister who has gone on to become a TEDx speaker as a transformational coach, said she had overcome her own internal conflicts as she tried to do “the impossible”, juggling a fast-paced career and a young family.
If you want to be kinder to yourself, let go of the ‘chirpy-chirpy’ that we all have in our minds; the negative comments of trying to guess what’s going to happen in the future, of regurgitating the past, criticising yourself or being worried about yourself.
Let that pass as much as you possibly can.
Tune in more to your common sense and notice what difference that makes.
Through the trapdoor
A powerful account of entering the industry “through the trapdoor” came from Joanne Nicholson, who lives with her husband and two young boys on the family dairy farm in Nidderdale.
Having initially grown up in Leeds, her family relocated to rural North Yorkshire where she met her future husband, farmer’s son Sean.
Joanne, who subsequently embarked upon a corporate career, told of how her romantic view of farming was tested when her and Sean moved onto the family dairy farm in Nidderdale earlier than expected due to a family illness.
Sean was one of four boys and the farm wasn’t big enough for all four boys to be home as well as grandad and dad and mum, so there was a lot to consider.
There were difficult and emotional conversations at the time. Sean’s mum wanted to know we were fully prepared for the life that we were going to follow and worried about the future for us.
The family had invested in a robotic milking system and then milk prices plummeted, but as Sean became more established at the farm, a change of milk processor to Arla brought a modern framework which Joanne could relate to due to her corporate background.
Taking part in Open Farm Sunday proved another revelation.
Joanne (pictured above) has gone on to establish Little Seed Field, a successful glamping operation using what was an unproductive area of farmland.
My role became about providing an alternative view.
What I could see of the farm, as an outsider, was the beautiful scenery, an enthusiastic new generation who wanted to take the farm forward.
Sean and I work towards a common goal, which is basically to preserve the sustainability of the farm as a working farm and making sure we make the most of the assets we have.
An energising day
Reflecting on a fascinating event, Kate Dale, Co-ordinator of the Women in Farming Network said:
There is something so energising and positive about bringing rural women together in this way.
Coming together for honest and open discussion generally leads to the positive change we need to see for our families and their businesses.
The stories we have heard are a powerful testament to the contribution women make to this industry in the modern age, and to the exciting opportunities that there are to get involved in British agriculture.
Grateful thanks to our Autumn Gathering sponsors: