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Adam Henson debunks the common image of the male farmer

PUBLISHED: 14:54 19 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:18 26 February 2013

Adam Henson debunks the common image of the male farmer

Adam Henson debunks the common image of the male farmer

Adam Henson debunks the common image of the male farmer

If I asked you to imagine the average British farmer I bet youd picture a ruddy-cheeked, middle-aged man. Theres nothing wrong with that and were all thankful for the hard work of the male baby-boomers who were born in the post-war years.

But the common image of agriculture as mans work is fast becoming an outdated stereotype. Over the past few years the proportion of farmers who are female has been rising steadily and, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of women in the industry increased by 6,000 last year alone.

Female farmers are nothing new of course. Some of my near neighbours in the Cotswolds are women, as are many rare breeds enthusiasts around the country. Im a great supporter of Young Farmers Clubs and if you visit your local branch theres a fair chance that youll see as many girls as boys. I think its even more significant, though, that the top three jobs on the National Council are now held by women.

Then theres the Womens Food and Farming Union; The WFUFU was set up in 1979 and while it might not be as old or well known as the National Farmers Union, it campaigns on a similar range of rural issues and informs shoppers about the food they buy.

I was delighted to see that the New Year Honours List included 78-year-old Agnes Leask. Shes a Shetland crofter, a tenacious fighter for that unique way of life and a great figurehead for small scale food production. Much to this modest ladys surprise, Agnes was awarded the British Empire Medal for a lifetime of service to crofting.

I speak to hundreds of fellow farmers every year and one of the most inspiring people Ive met recently is Emma Gray. She left her parents farm in Scotland when she was only 23 to take on a 150 acre tenancy high up on the Northumberland Moors from the National Trust. This is tough, isolated terrain and in winter it can be bleak and inhospitable.

It would be a challenge for even the most experienced farming family so the fact that Emma runs the place single-handed is remarkable. She moved there to build up her own flock of sheep and funds her ambition by shepherding and training sheep dogs. When I first heard Emmas story I really had my doubts about how she, or anybody, would cope on their own in such a remote spot. But after seeing her passion for farming, her determination to succeed and her complete capability, I came away full of confidence and admiration.

Ive always said that farming is a great way of life. So its heartening to know that its becoming accessible to more people, whether theyre men or women.


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