Soaring number of women want career in farming, say colleges

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THE NUMBER of females looking to pursue a career in farming is soaring, with vast increases in the number of women pursuing agricultural courses being reported in the region.

While seen as a stereotypical male-dominated industry, the picture in Yorkshire appears to be increasingly that large numbers of women are seeking to enter the sector.

Askham Bryan College in York said the proportion of females 
as part of the overall student 
body have increased from 12 per cent in 2004 to 25 per cent in 2014.

Meanwhile the principal of Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire said that one in five students at the college currently is female, as compared with just one in 10 five years ago.

The news will be welcomed due to the huge need for new entrants into farming. According to skills council Lantra, the average age of farmers is approaching 60 years of age and an estimated 60,000 new entrants are needed in the industry over the next 10 years.

The introduction of technology – and advances that machinery manufacturers have made – in the last decade alone has taken away some of the need for the manual labour associated with farming and jobs in the agriculture sector. The practical, hands-on nature of the sector has not changed completely, but technology has evolved – opening up more opportunities for women and men alike.

The advances in nutrition, genetics, informatics, satellite imaging, remote sensing, meteorology precision farming and low-impact agriculture are driving major investment globally in agri-tech.

The industry is increasingly seeing women in high-level managerial positions and this in itself inspires younger generations to enter what was once seen as a traditional, male-dominated working environment.

Liz Philip, principal of Askham Bryan College, said: “There are more opportunities for women and I think they are more aware of those opportunities and so they are going out there to take them.

“I think there is less physical work involved in agriculture now; it’s more technical, and because of that women can physically do the work.

“I think perhaps there is less prejudice now of women in agriculture. The position with succession within a farming family is something that’s now becoming more balanced between sons and daughters. There is that recognition now whereas there was a situation in the past where the son would inherit and the daughter would not. I think the industry needs the brightest people and it doesn’t really matter whether they are male or female.”

Jeanette Dawson, OBE Principal and Chief Executive of Bishop Burton College said: “Overall, the numbers of women studying agriculture here at Bishop Burton has increased 300 per cent in six years. As 94 per cent of our students progress to employment or higher education, we’re training the next generation of young entrants into an industry that needs new blood.”

Hannah Donaldson, aged 18 from York studying the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture said: “I have been involved in farming all my life, having grown up on the farm. It seemed a natural choice for me to go into farming but I have had to develop my own interests and come up with ideas for the development of our farm.”