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Celebrating farming women in science #InternationalWomensDay

Let’s take a look at the women who are at the forefront of science in the farming industry.

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Celebrate women in farming at the forefront of science #IntrnationalWomensDay

The farming sector is continually driven by significant scientific developments, and there are many women who are playing integral roles in the progress being made within agriculture.


AHDB resource management scientist for soil, Dr Amanda Bennett, said: “It’s important we recognise the leading role women are now playing to advance scientific research within the UK’s agricultural sector.


“The increasing number of women pursuing PhD studies within the field is also incredibly encouraging for the future of the industry and it is vital to invest in this talent.”


With women now making up one third of agriculture, according to the Office for National Statistics, The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) is focusing on some of the women driving British agriculture forward.


With research and development at the forefront, AHDB sponsores PhD studies in order to support specialist technical training for scientists, with 60% of those studends presently female.


The Levy Board has now committed a further £5 million in research and development funding for PhD students over the next five years.


Women in science

Below we hear from women working for AHDB, who are proud to be a part of farming and at the cutting edge of science.


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Katie Fitzgerald, Nottingham


With animal welfare a critical focus in the agricultural industry, Katie spends her days monitoring dairy cow behaviour provided by sensor monitoring technology, an innovative device used to improve the comfort and welfare of cows.


With her work part of a research partnership between AHDB Dairy and the University of Nottingham she says:


“The biggest reward for me is having the opportunity to think about how my research can have a positive impact on the dairy industry by improving the welfare of cows and improving the efficiency of the farming businesses,” she says.


“Agricultural research gives me a unique opportunity to undertake good science with a genuine practical application in an industry I am incredibly passionate about.”

Catherine Garman - Crop Protection Scientist (Diseases)

"At AHDB I manage research projects on crop disease and also do the disease ratings for the Recommended List.

I’ve worked for AHDB for 6 months and before that I worked out in the field doing crop trials. It was great – I spent every day outside on drills and combines, in crops, and talking to farmers! I did my BASIS and was nominated for the Barrie Orme shield.


It’s really interesting and I’m learning a lot. I also help out on a sheep farm in my spare time, to make sure I still get out on farm.


I’m hoping to get an allotment so I can plant some wheat and barley and have my own little farm where I can monitor disease.


Before I started working I did a degree in environmental science at the University of York and a masters in agronomy at the University of Warwick. I love agriculture and want to be thoroughly immersed in all things farming during my career, and hopefully make a positive difference."

Jenny Gibbons - Dairy Senior Scientist - Husbandry & Welfare

"As an Animal Science graduate, I gained an MSc in applied animal behaviour and welfare science at the University of Edinburgh.


"Later, I went on to complete a PhD with SRUC and the University of Edinburgh. I worked for 18 months as a post-doctoral fellow at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in British Columbia, Canada where my research focused on the effect of cow comfort on dairy cattle longevity on farms across Canada.


"Currently, I am Senior Dairy Scientist with a focus on welfare and husbandry. I manage a portfolio of research at AHDB Dairy, the dairy levy organisation of Great Britain."


Some of the projects Jenny has worked on include:


Calf to calving

"Youngstock are the future dairy producers and it is paramount that they get the best possible start to life in terms of nutrition, health and welfare.


"In 2016, along with colleagues at AHDB, we rolled out a calf management extension programme to British dairy farmers.


"The project brings the latest research and best practice directly to dairy farmers to enable dairy farmers to make measured improvements in young stock survival and growth."



"Eurodairy is a network to connect dairy farmers wishing to improve their farms and to provide a more sustainable future for their farms and families."


Future housing of dairy cattle

"The aim is to optimise the housed environment of dairy cows to improve health and welfare of dairy cattle.


"This project is just starting and will assess the impact of different space availability on health and welfare of dairy cattle, and assess the cow’s preference for different lying area and materials by letting her vote with her hooves."

Dr Nicola Harrison - Crop Protection Systems Senior Scientist


"Science, natural history and gardening were always a passion of mine from a very young age.


These interests led me into a career as a research scientist at The University of Manchester for several years where I worked on fundamental research projects. I then followed my love of plant science and moved to Scotland to pursue a Ph.D. at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (RBGE).


During my time at RBGE, I developed a keen interest in fruit production, and even started ‘grafting’ my own fruit trees to produce my own ‘hobby’ orchard. It was through this interest that I pursued a career as a research scientist working on fruit trees at NIAB EMR in Kent (formally East Malling Research, the ‘home of the UK fruit research’), where I was fortunate to focus my interests on the role of grafted ‘rootstocks’ in orchard fruit production.


It was during this period that I began to work closely with agri-businesses and growers in the horticultural industry to help them address the challenges and opportunities in crop production. I found it extremely rewarding to build good relationships and develop innovative reseach and development projects with progressive and forward-thinking industry partners in the horticultural industry, from which, initiatives such as the ‘Collaborative Training Partnership for Fruit Crop Research’ was developed.


These experiences led to my recent move to AHDB as a Senior Scientist in Horticultural Crop Production Systems, where I am able to use my knowledge and experience of fundamental science through to applied research, to fund relevant and innovative research and development on behalf of the horticultural industry."

Georgina Key - Resource Management Scientist (Crops)


"I have always loved nature, having grown up watching David Attenborough, so studied ecology at Lancaster University. During my degree I spent a year living and studying in Sydney. Between my degree and PhD, I spent time working in turtle conservation in Cyprus, then moved back to Lancaster University to do my AHDB- (HDC) funded PhD which explored combined cropping to enhance natural predators and parasitoids of pests.


I then did a post-doc at Lancaster and Manchester Universities in association with Cambridge University, reviewing practices to enhance soil fertility. I then decided to move out of academia and after a short hiatus, got a job at AHDB in the Horticulture and Resource Management Teams working as a Resource Management Scientist."

Bolette Palla Neve - Crop Protection Scientist (Pesticide)


"I grew up on a farm in Denmark but was always adamant that I didn’t want a career in farming.


However, as I started studying biology and chemistry in school I enjoyed how you can apply the science to make improvements in agriculture and I eventually decided to study Agricultural Science at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen (now part of Copenhagen University) specialising in crop protection.


After finishing my MSc I worked in Western Australia at the Western Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative looking at herbicide resistant weed species which has beenna serious problem in Australia for some time.


I then moved to the UK and worked at The University of Birmingham assessing insect biocontrol agents to be used in protected cropping to look at the potential risk of them escaping and establishing outside.


My interest has always been crop protection and after a few years working for the National Farmers Union I joined AHDB (then HDC) in 2010 to work in crop protection – more specifically on the Minor Use Programme.


My job involves working with growers of salad crops, ornamentals and vegetables grown in glasshouses to make sure they have the right tools available to them for control of pests, weeds and diseases.


Many of these minor crops struggle to protect their crops as the large manufacturers of plant protection products often overlook them as the potential market is so small."

Kim - Crop Protection Scientist (Diseases)


"I gained a first class honours degree in Plant Sciences from Imperial College.


My early career saw me gain experience in plant pathology at ADAS and Horticultural Research International.


I carried out my PhD and post-doctoral studies in the Caribbean and West Africa working on crop protection and problems in tropical subsistence crops (yams and plantains).


Then, after eleven years working for ADAS as a plant pathologist specialising in diseases of horticultural
crops, I had a five year career break and started at AHDB in September 2016 as a Crop Protection Scientist (Diseases).


I help to develop and manage AHDB-funded research, focussing on diseases of horticultural crops. I also act as research manager for key grower groups (leafy salads, herbs, asparagus, watercress), to ensure that AHDB research remains relevant to industry priorities.

My most significant achievement in AHDB to date has been in coordinating a rapid response
to a new lettuce disease (Fusarium wilt) that emerged in the UK in autumn 2017. This has involved working with AHDB colleagues, researchers and people across the leafy salads industry to ensure accurate information is provided to growers in a timely fashion and that appropriate research is commissioned."

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