A new organisation has been launched for women in the agri-food sector following a spell of disagreements and divisions in the Women’s Food and Farming Union.

The Food & Education Rural e-Network (FeRN), which has been set up by people with strong former WFU connections, aims to “facilitate communication and debate between members and offer a fresh viewpoint on the UK agri-food industry.”

FeRN claims it will be “issues-driven” and says it differs from existing bodies in that it will be a largely internet-based “e-organisation”.

“We’re all leading busy lives,” says Sue Archer, FeRN chairman. “A lot of us don’t have time to go to meetings, but we would have time to communicate in the evening on the internet.

“We want to be a focal point for all women of all ages working at all levels of the food, farming and rural sectors – from chief executive to farm secretary, scientist to supermarket buyer, consultant to farmer – to be able to meet, network, discuss and debate the industry they are part of.”

FeRN hopes members will set-up local and regional networks, with a national office acting as a knowledge-exchange hub enabling members to contribute up-to-date opinions, news and information online and by email.

Mrs Archer believes FeRN members have opinions and knowledge that will offer a “fresh and alternative view to the industry’s usual commentators and stakeholders”.

Members of the WFU, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, say they hope the new group complements rather than duplicates the work they’re doing.

“What we have done for 30 years has worked and it will carry on working,” says WFU stalwart Ionwen Lewis, who highlights its successes influencing government, communicating with customers and making a difference to farmers. “We have made a difference and we continue to make a difference.”

The WFU points to its work on issues such as food security, local food and milk. It’s also planning new branches in London, Shropshire, Monmouth and North Wales.

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