Two key calendar events have recently been celebrated. International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, writes FUW Group Business Manager, Caryl Roberts.

In what has traditionally been seen as a male dominated industry, agriculture is, without doubt, totally dependent on women and always has been. Granted women have not always been given credit for the critical role they play within the sector, but isn’t that true of most industries? 

What is important today is to acknowledge the imperative role women have on our farms, our businesses and the sector, as a whole. You only need to cast your eye back to the historical role women played during the Second World War as the need to grow more food at home and increase the amount of land in cultivation. With many agricultural male workers joining the armed forces, women were needed to provide a new ‘official’ rural workforce. The  Women’s Land Army was reignited at the beginning of the Second World War as women were recruited to boost UK’s food production. At its peak in 1944, it’s thought that 80,000 women were working across our rural landscape.

Born and raised on an upland beef and sheep farm myself, I know full well that women were already playing a pivotal role in agriculture before any official Land Army was established. Centuries of women have milked cows, lambed sheep, reared chicks and fattened pigs on farms. This is in conjunction with child rearing, feeding the family on a shoestring, carrying out laborious household chores and inputting extensively into the close-knit community, culture and language of rural Wales. 

Personally, I think the future for women in agriculture is positive. We’re seeing change for the better and more acceptance of changing roles within the sector. News that an agricultural university, like Harper Adams has registered a 41.3% uptake on female agricultural students during 2022/23 in comparison to 23.6% a decade ago, is thrilling. 

FUW is always looking at opportunities to guide, promote and encourage women to succeed within agriculture. We’re fortunate to have strong female staff members and representatives who understand the industry inside out. We’re proud of the fact that 65% of the FUW business group staff are women. A diverse, skilled workforce with the ability to work together has been key during these past hectic weeks. The Sustainable Farming Scheme has seen staff going the extra mile to support concerned members, to guide people through the process and to work with our Welsh farmers, partners and key organisations for the good of the industry. 

One female staff member who was recently interviewed to discuss women in agriculture, was Gemma Haines, FUW’s Glamorgan Deputy County Executive. A beef and sheep farmer from Bridgend, Gemma is chair of FUW’s Young Voices in Agriculture committee who meet during the year to discuss policy, projects and interests. She combines her FUW County Exec role of supporting FUW members with farming at home and a busy family life. Another accolade to Gemma’s bow is the determination she has shown to re-visit her Welsh language skills. Her recent BBC Radio Cymru interview about women in agriculture was a great personal achievement to her. Llongyfarchiadau Gemma! 

Another key staff member, Interim Head of Policy, Hazel Wright will soon move on to pastures new. Hazel has worked with us for 14 years, and will leave a big hole to fill when she leaves. Many farmers will have had contact with Hazel over the years, especially with her expertise on TB and animal health. I would like to take this opportunity to wish her well for the future and acknowledge the important role she has played and the tremendous contributions she has made to the FUW. Diolch Hazel!