15 March 2002

Woman with a role in farm politics

The number of women in the

role of NFU county chairman

can be counted on one hand.

Liz Boynton met one from

Herefordshire

DESPITE the fact that only a handful of women in the country hold the position of NFU county chairman, Liz Pursey feels it is important for more women to take an active role in determining the future of farming.

With 170 pedigree Holstein dairy cows and the production of 1.5m broiler chickens for the supermarket trade, Liz and husband Roger of Trevase Farm, near Ross-on-Wye, believe her experience will be invaluable in her new position.

"As well as being responsible for most of the paperwork on the farm, my other role is as relief worker in the chicken houses," Liz explains.

Her first involvement in NFU politics was in 1997 when she was asked to meet Elliot Morley to give him a womans view of a TB breakdown on the farm. Herefordshire has a serious Bovine TB problem and Liz had experienced the problems first hand.

"I think one of the main reasons I was prepared to be county chairman is the family. Weve got two sons that are university age – both have wanted to go into agriculture since they were toddlers and talk and breathe nothing else.

"It would appear to me that if somebody isnt prepared to put some time and effort into helping our industry back onto an even keel, then certainly in the livestock industry, I dont think there will be a lot for our sons to come back to."

Although Liz had no experience of running meetings or dealing with the politics of the job, she felt more women would become involved in the future, as fewer farmers would be able to afford the extra employees needed to cover for NFU absences.

&#42 Confidence

"The only thing I think will help me through this coming year is the confidence I have because I know my subject. I was certainly thrown in at the deep end with my first interview with the media," Liz recalls.

"Last February we had a very early outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the area and I was asked to do an interview at 7am in our nearby village. I got there to find that I was going to be interviewed by Jeremy Bowen for his morning broadcast.

"I sat in the car and thought – oh my God, what have I done, is this the time to bolt? But then I thought, no, pull yourself together. From a womans point of view its a bit like having a baby. You know perfectly well youve got yourself into this mess and theres no way out of it. Youve got to face the consequences.

"I faced the camera and Jeremy Bowen came into my earpiece – and he was brilliant, he led me through it and was so kind and amenable."

As part of the job Liz has now undergone a very tough media training course with the NFU, for both TV and radio.

"It was very useful and interesting. We have to be able to portray our industry to the general public. As farmers weve not been used to doing these things, but we have to be able to put our side of the story.

"I still feel that Im a fairly new girl in knowing what direction the NFU is taking but somebody has got to be able to talk to government even if we dont like what theyre saying.

"Im looking forward to meeting all sorts of different people and to actually seeing life from the other side of the farm gate. Farming is quite an insular job and I think I am going to be talking to a lot of people who have quite an influence over our industry.

"It does worry me that I might be hitting my head against a brick wall trying to change things, but I feel Ive got to do something to make a difference for our sons future in farming."