FARMING DECEMBER 9 DAVID HANDLEY COLUMN
The way things stand it looks very much as though the NFU will get its first woman president in the New Year.
The odds are shortening as all the money goes on Wiltshire’s Minette Batters being elected at the annual meeting. Assuming she runs true to form and ends up sitting in the big chair I wish her a long and successful tenure and all the luck in the world dealing with the challenges that are just over the horizon.
Equally I trust that those who will be casting their votes for her in the election will be doing so because of who she is and what they believe her to be capable of, rather than merely because they think it would somehow improve the NFU’s image to have a woman in charge.
My own view is that it is entirely appropriate to have a woman running what is by any measure a male-dominated organisation. Because at last the NFU will be acknowledging the role women play in keeping the machinery of British agriculture turning smoothly and efficiently.
There are, in fact, very few farms which could operate successfully were it not for the contribution of the farmers’ wives. In addition to bringing up families they invariably put in hours of work – much, if not all of it, unpaid – and in most cases I know they carry out the all-important task of doing the books.
Very little of this input has been recognised. There have, of course, been the high-profile campaigning organisations such as Women in Pigs, which have done invaluable work in promoting British food.
There was, until last year, the Women’s Farming Union which did a brilliant job in beating the drum for British farming and raising the profile of women working in the industry. The fact that it disbanded after 37 years was regrettable but it happened for the right reason - because it had helped women engage in politics and agricultural organisations far more than they were than at the time it was set up.
That greater involvement has now brought us to the brink of a new era for theNFU – and one I sincerely hope sees it start to change from a largely ineffectual old men’s club to something more dynamic which is going to be able to engage with the wider public and push food and farming issues much higher up the agenda of public debate – a rightful position given that we still produce 60 per cent of what this nation eats and are being encouraged to increase that percentage considerably post-Brexit.
I hope Minette Batters makes a success of the job and more than that I hope she can inspire other women in farming to follow her example – as long as they can find the time between driving the children to school, doing the milking, cooking the meals, cleaning the house and dealing with the accountant.