9 October 1998

WiA comprises much more than willing workers

Farmers wives dont just share the workload, these

days they share the business planning and the campaigning

too, as Ann Rogers was reminded when she spoke to two

co-ordinators of Women in Agriculture

AS soon as the latest BSE in sheep scare cropped up Helen Morris sat down and wrote to the prime minister asking him to take steps to ensure that his advisers remain silent until they know what they are talking about.

She also gave good reasons for the unlikelihood of sheep being a threat to health and drew his attention to the plight of the rural economy.

"It is my therapy," says Helen, who farms with her husband at Clyro, Hay-on-Wye, and is one of the nine co-ordinators of Women in Agriculture, a group of Brecon farmers wives who describe themselves as "Country women fighting for their livelihoods".

"Its another piece of paper on their desks and somebodys got to do something with it," she says of her letter.

"Helens good on the letter side. Im the one with the computer," says Janet Jones, a farmers wife from Talgarth, Brecon, a fellow WiA co-ordinator and internet contact – www.ruralwales.org.uk/wia/ – for the group.

&#42 No chairman

It is an informal organisation, Helen explains. There is no chairman and the last time the co-ordinators met the chairmans chair was left empty and the last one in sat in it.

Its also a very young organisation that had its roots in the Welsh farmers demonstrations of last winter.

"Farmers were demonstrating all night and working all day," recalls Janet explaining that the wives decided to pitch in and help ease the load. "Half a dozen of them went around the butchers and the restaurants of Brecon asking if they used British meat. A meeting was arranged and area co-ordinators appointed. I wasnt able to go and you know what happens when you are not there!" laughs Janet who found herself the co-ordinator for the Talgarth area.

She had had some campaigning experience before. "The arable aid for less favoured areas was cut in half in 1994. We are mostly arable and much of our land is in a less favoured area. We learned quite a lot from it," she says.

The wellie campaign was the groups first big demonstration when about 300 women and children took part in a protest march and posted off hundreds of pairs of childrens wellington boots to the prime minister and the-then minister of agriculture Jack Cunningham with the message that as there was no longer any future in farming for the next generation they no longer needed their wellies.

Since then their organisation has consolidated and, for the moment at least, is following a quieter path. WiA meetings are proving popular and useful. "We are not trying to go down the Womens Institute road because they do a marvellous job in their own right," Janet says.

"We are looking at the business side of farming. Most wives are full partners in the business but there are not many opportunities for them to have a good look at farming business and talk farming business with other women.

"Traditionally the men have gone along to the meetings and women dont really see that they are actually business women," says Janet, who has been giving talks about farming to womens organisations and groups of businesswomen to help get farmings plight better understood in towns.

&#42 MLC training

Some WiA members have also been on an MLC training course to enable them to give talks to children. Much personal confidence has been gained in the few months of WiAs existence. "Women are no longer shy of media attention," notes Janet and they benefit from mutual support. "With the men, attending meetings and demonstrating was like counselling as they talked with other farmers. Its the same with the women. Discussing their problems has helped. If you know that everyone else is in the same boat your problems dont seem to be so dire."

Even so, the strength of feeling that exists in the Welsh countryside at present could result in WiA becoming militant again before too long.

"Traditionally farmers wives were always there in the background. Not so much now," says Helen. "The moment belts start tightening it affects the home."