More women in the UK are choosing a career in farming and food than ever before, figures showed.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that there are 23,000 female farmers in the UK at present, compared with hardly any a decade ago. Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of women farmers by 6,000.

By contrast, there are 119,000 men, which dropped by 5,000 in 2012, according to the ONS’ latest Labour Force Survey.

In total, 355,000 people are employed in agriculture and related trades, the survey said.

Recent statistics also showed an 11% increase in the number of graduate students coming through into food and farming. Compared with just 1% for medicine and dentistry, this figure outstrips any other industry and was larger than any other sector in 2010-11.

The figures suggest that more women are viewing food and farming and related areas as a real opportunity and carving out successful careers in the industry.

Sarah Dawson, a Lincolnshire-based vegetable specialist and grower, and chairman of the NFU’s horticulture and potato board, was the first woman to be elected chairman of a national NFU board.

“My particular view is that post-1970s, the brawn necessary to produce crops and food has been replaced by brain,” she said.

“Increased mechanisation and automation has helped open up the whole food and farming industry as a very diverse career option with huge opportunities for everyone, regardless of sex. Inevitably this has made the industry much more accessible to women.”

Caroline Drummond, chief executive of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), said: “Globally, the majority of the world’s farmers are women and I think women should and will continue to play an important role in food and agriculture.

“With technology, women are as capable as men at an operational level, whether it’s operating machinery, driving tractors or milking cows.

“In terms of diversification and public engagement, women are very good at working with the community and getting the message out about farming.

“With Open Farm Sunday, we have seen it is not just about men – women and farmers’ partners and wives are all taking part.”

According to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, more than 60,000 new farmers will be needed over the next decade to produce our food.

Last year, Farmers Weekly launched Farmers Apprentice, a groundbreaking initiative to help young people from all walks of life get a foot on the farming career ladder.

Catherine Barrett, 25, a Farmers Apprentice finalist, said: “There are so many different levels within agriculture, it doesn’t all have to be hands-on.

“Of course, there are some jobs in agriculture that are more physically demanding than others. Personally, I am interested in arable farming, the science, and taking this into the field.”

Ms Barrett has just secured a seven-month placement as a development trials assistant for a leading agri-chemical company.

“I think the thing that can put women off a career in farming is the lack of security and the financial side,” she said. It can be quite lucrative if you do it right. But you probably need to work every hour that God sends.

“Having said that, I know people working in law companies who are sleeping under office desks at night, so working a 12-hour day in farming is nothing in comparison.

“At least in agriculture you can see what you have produced at the end of the season.”

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