THE hugely significant roles women play in enterprise on farms and in rural businesses was the focus of a special gathering, recently.

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Women in Farming Network was told that the influence of women would be crucial when countryside industries met future challenges, when its members met at the Great Yorkshire Showground.

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For the first time in two years, around 110 women – and men – joined the network at Pavilions of Harrogate for an 'Autumn Gathering' that offered valuable in-person networking opportunities.

Judith Wood, Barclays agricultural manager, who chaired the event, explained how farming businesses are currently challenged by increased costs and cashflow pressures.

Judith said: “Many are benefitting from high grain and livestock prices at the moment, but unfortunately this is being dashed by high fertiliser, fuel and feed prices, and also the labour shortage and the impact that is having on our industry too.”

Strawberry grower, Annabel Makin-Jones, told how new technology is helping her address labour shortages that have affected her business at Micklefield, near Leeds. She invested heavily to switch from growing plants in the ground to a table-top system and now is looking to introduce robots at the end of her strawberry packing lines.

Annabel said: “Technology can be a real pain, initially, to get everyone on board, but if we don’t change with the times we will get left behind. We have to embrace this, especially with the staff shortages we are seeing.”

Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland professor of rural economy at the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Rural Economy, presented findings from her Government and EU research projects into the role of women in agriculture.

She explained that women who have married into farming are heavily influencing farming practices as progressive and innovative entrepreneurs, adding: “They have important roles in decision making and developing alternative income streams.

“They are also driving regenerative farming. Women marrying in really brings a fresh pair of eyes. They look at the farm differently and they see the opportunities.”

A retail perspective came from Alice Liddle and Sophie Jenkinson, from the farming team of supermarket chain, Morrisons. They explained how it sought to support its farmer suppliers during the Covid-19 pandemic by making payments more frequently to its small business suppliers to aid their cashflow.

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The gathering was drawn to a close by Kate Dale, co-ordinator of the Women in Farming Network, who said: “The overriding message from me is, you have to set yourself apart, mark your work with excellence, make that your goal. It’s a journey, but you will get there. The qualities we all need are determination, resilience, a sense of humour and a willingness to listen and learn.”

The Women in Farming Network was created in 2013 following requests from women living and working on farms and related industries. For details, see