Minister urges agriculture to bring on the girls

Tough slog – bringing feed to the sheep in Glen Fruin, near Helensburgh, and Robbie and Ann Lennox at their farm, Shemore on Loch Lomondside.

By Bill Heaney 

Farming is big business in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute.  Not that you would know this from reading the local newspapers or listening to local radio, apart from the regular reports of the activities of Loch Lomond Young Farmers’ Club. The television programmes Countryfile and Landward are hugely popular though.

The annual warnings for people to keep their dog on the lead when they go out walking in the countryside, especially during the lambing season, and considerable coverage is given to the Drymen Show.

Farming is very much on the agenda of the Scottish Parliament and the final report of their women in agriculture task force, established by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in June, 2017, is out now.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, spoke about the role of women in Scottish agriculture, undertaking, as they do, a range of roles as owners, tenants and workers on farms and crofts.

He said: “They are increasingly involved in the supply chain that provides goods and services that surround agriculture and food production, and they are employed in key stakeholder organisations.

“However, there is still a breakthrough to be made in terms of women occupying visible leadership roles in equal numbers to men across the industry.”

The research report, “Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector”, details a range of barriers which face women at work in farming – “not the least of which are the fundamental and deep-rooted conscious bias and unconscious bias in how organisations operate, are structured and act.”

The Government was attempting to change that.

Mr Ewing said: “The task force also debated and considered quotas for women in positions of leadership in the industry. We concluded that the starting point for change should be to create a suite of practical measures that the industry can engage with voluntarily.

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This happy couple at Drymen Show demonstrate that farming is not just for men.

“That does not mean that the Government will not act in the future if change continues to be slow, but that the status quo is no longer acceptable. The need for everyone to embrace and facilitate change is a core conclusion that runs throughout the task force’s report.”

He added: “There is certainly more for the Government to do, which is why we will take the lead in piloting the equality charter for Scottish agriculture. That will set out key ways that businesses and organisations of any size can work towards greater equality, and support positive change that benefits their business. We will test it and review it by 2022, and we expect every organisation that participates in Government-led groups to evidence compliance with the charter by the end of that year.”

He added: “As well as creating the right environment to enable women to participate equitably, we need to ensure that more women in agriculture get the support that they need to build their capacity and skills in order to succeed. The Government has already agreed to create a women in agriculture development programme that is accessible and delivers training and mentoring to support women to build their confidence, enhance their business skills and develop their leadership abilities. We have also committed funding for the pilots of three specific independent courses, in the programme.”

The Minister told Parliament that they have appointed Sheila Campbell-Lloyd of Inner Works Coaching to deliver the “Be your best self” training pilot.

Mr Ewing said: “It will be open to all women in agriculture to help them to build more confidence, explore new possibilities and opportunities, and make new connections. I hope very much that the development programme will provide one of the quick wins that will make a real difference for women in agriculture.

“There is no doubt that some of the other recommendations will take longer to effect. In the coming months, the Government will engage with key bodies including the Law Society of Scotland, Scotland’s Rural College, the Agriculture Industries Confederation and the Health and Safety Executive to develop shared approaches to implementing the recommendations on succession and on health and safety.

“As part of our work on future policy on farming and food production, we will explore and consider how to deliver the recommendations on new entrants. It is clear that the Scottish land-matching service can play a role in that.

“There is no doubt that cultural change on such a scale requires time; the report recognises that. However, we are already starting to see an impact from the range of activity that is being driven by women in agriculture, which is encouraging many organisations and businesses to change. Let me be absolutely clear: change must come. Doing nothing is not an option.

Farming in Glen Fruin, Glen Douglas and Helensburgh. Pictures by Bill Heaney

“Scottish agriculture is the beating heart of rural Scotland. It is the food engine for both Scotland and the global export market. However, it is also the last male stronghold in the country. Make no mistake—Scottish agriculture is full of women and girls who are skilled and able, but not all of them have the opportunities that they deserve and are capable of taking up. Inequality is entrenched and embedded. That simply cannot be allowed to continue.

“This Government wants a fairer rural Scotland, not just because that is the right thing, but in order to allow the rural economy and communities to thrive. Scotland needs an agricultural industry that is sustainable, profitable and able to make the most of its resources to be competitive. It also needs to be resilient and inclusive.

“It is neither acceptable nor business-savvy for agencies, organisations and businesses that operate in Scottish agriculture today to be effectively male only. If we can help them to be better and more equitable, we should do so.

“Those agencies, organisations and businesses also need to hear clearly that men-only boards and governance structures must be consigned to the past.

“Scottish agriculture simply cannot afford to leave women behind, but changing a centuries-old culture will involve significant work. Crucially, it will require that everyone who has a stake and an interest in the future of agriculture in Scotland work together.

“Together, we can do it, but alone, we will fail. I hope that Parliament will lend its support to that work, and that it will play its part in making change and equality happen for women in agriculture.”

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con) declared an interest as a partner in a farming business.

He told parliament: “There is a great and pressing need to change the culture in farming circles and to recognise better, and harness, the huge benefits that women can bring to our industry. However, we all know that changing cultures takes a long time.

“I am pleased that the task force has rejected the idea of quotas for women in leadership positions in our industry. I think that assisting women with their training needs is a better way forward, and I believe that the suite of training that is proposed under the women in agriculture development programme is an excellent initiative.”

It is proposed that much of the work will be funded by the Scottish Government in partnership with the applicants and the industry.

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Members of the Loch Lomond Young Farmers Club taken on the 75th anniversary.

Mr Ewing said: “It will take some time to effect societal change. It will not happen overnight, but the task force is determined that it will happen and we are taking positive, practical steps there anent.”

Provision for childcare, care of the elderly and disabled were raised and the inheritance question touched on.

Fergus Ewing said: “The task force took the view that the existing culture among some people—for example, the view that men should be the heirs to a business—is the real cultural issue that needs to change, together with the current lack of succession planning by families on crofts, smallholdings and farms.

“The recommendations therefore focus on asking the industry to engage in awareness raising and providing the right advice and support to farmers, crofters and smallholders. Lawyers have a role to play, and one of the actions for Government will be to engage with the Law Society of Scotland, and others, to explore how best to go about raising awareness and providing appropriate advice and information.”

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