Opinion: Women can be the ‘glue’ that holds a farm together

Many women, like me, work full-time on farm, supporting and helping our partners through good times and bad.

We still take on the majority of the cooking, cleaning and childcare responsibilities, as well as running successful diversification projects or working off-farm, earning extra money to help keep the farming business and family finances afloat.

That was underscored by the responses to a new Farmers Weekly survey of women in agriculture.

See also: Opinion – farmers are the climate change scapegoats 

About the author

Cath Morley
Cath Morley grew up on a mixed livestock farm in Derbyshire. She now lives and works on a Lancashire dairy unit with her husband, Chris Halhead. They milk 150 cows with three robots and rear all their own replacement heifers.
Read more articles by Cath Morley

The Level the Field survey highlights some of the challenges women face in our sector, and the added pressure those challenges bring.

I can tell you, I am certainly feeling the pressure at the moment, and January is going to be a difficult month for umpteen reasons.

I also read Rabi’s Big Farming Survey recently, which showed 58% of women are suffering with some form of anxiety or depression.

Unlike our male counterparts, we still feel we have to prove our worth when it comes to a career in agriculture, fighting to be recognised as equal.

Alongside that, we burden ourselves with the responsibility of keeping everyone else happy, healthy, and mentally sound.

On more than one occasion, I have been described as the glue that holds everything together – a huge responsibility and one which I can’t delegate. Inevitably, now and again, that glue comes unstuck.

Also highlighted in Rabi’s survey was domestic abuse, with about 20% of women having suffered emotional, physical or financial abuse.

The dream of living on a farm and creating an idyllic lifestyle for their children is a far cry from reality. In many cases, the abuse is never reported and carries on for decades. A desperately sad and shocking statistic.

I’m lucky, as I was welcomed into my husband’s family with open arms. I was never made to feel like I didn’t belong or that my opinions weren’t valid.

My in-laws could see I was an asset, not a threat. They shared their knowledge with me and set me up with the tools I needed to survive on today’s relentless, dairy farming treadmill.

It was like an apprenticeship, slowly being shown the ropes, helping with calf feeding and mucking in with routine jobs, while taking care of our two small children.

I would occasionally venture out to a meeting, but only after a military planning operation to organise childcare.

Back then, there can’t have been any forward-thinking event organisers like there were at last year’s Women in Dairy conference.

Offering early years childcare places for the duration of the event was a genius idea – someone saw a barrier and set about dismantling it. I hope others follow suit.

Enabling more women to share their knowledge, voice their opinions and influence discussions can only be positive.

I’d like to see a trickle-down to smaller events – dairy group and NFU meeting organisers should take a step towards multigenerational inclusivity.

It could be a lifeline for some mums, who find the isolation of being stuck at home on the farm almost unbearable.

Future generations need a modern and progressive industry which understands that women are an amazing asset and, whatever their role within agriculture, deserve to be respected and treated as the intelligent and hard-working people they are – whether that’s in the workplace, at a meeting or at home on the farm.

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