Women are taking on key jobs in agriculture which in times gone by were reserved for men, but they still may not get a chance to reach their potential as things stand, says Stuart Agnew, UKIP MEP candidate.
This article will be published in the three day ‘no man’s land’ between the European Election casting of ballots and the counting of votes.
My fate has been decided, but I do not know it, so I will not talk politics.
Before starting farming on my own account, I worked on six different farms as a full-time employee in different capacities of seniority.
To my surprise, I can recall pretty accurately the gender balance of my full-time co-employees: 57 were male and six female.
Two of the female jobs were secretarial, leaving a calf rearer, a poultry woman, a fencer and livestock assistant and a potato grader/hand hoer/crop weeder.
There were many women employed on these farms as seasonal labour, but the unwritten rule was the operation and maintenance of machinery was very much a male preserve which came with its own pecking order.
These jobs did, however, come with strings attached which were off-putting for females.
For example, the old reversible ploughs required considerable physical strength to manually turn the bodies over on the headland.
Fertiliser spreading involved the lifting of 50kg bags, the same applied to seed drilling.
Simply depressing the clutch of a tractor, holding the diff-lock mechanism in place with your heel, and not having the benefit of power steering all required physical strength.
Lifting ballast weights and changing wheel track settings were no doddle either. Filling sprayers involved clambering up a few steel rungs carrying a 25-litre container and having to manually fold and unfold heavy booms above your head.
There was little appeal in having to grease up to a hundred greasing points on a combine each morning, many in inaccessible places.
Well, how things have changed.
I was talking to a young woman recently about her work on the family farm, which includes contract work on other farms to total about 2,000 acres.
While her father mans the office and occasionally a tractor, she is the combine driver, sprayer operator and ‘ploughman’. In other words, most of the key jobs.
There is another skilled man employed, but his skills are dated. Driving a dead straight line is performed by GPS. Diagnosing problems is now done by a computer. On the job running repairs now involve a knowledge of electronics. IT skills are required to get the best out of the tractor, to optimise all the data that is presented on screens.
If she had a brother, these opportunities might not have come her way.