Recent statistics reveal that women now make up a third of Britain’s farmers, marking a significant shift in the traditionally male-dominated industry.

It’s a testament to the growing recognition of women’s pivotal role in agriculture and the concerted efforts to encourage their participation.

From technological advancements to educational opportunities, women are finding themselves drawn to farming for a number of reasons, not least the flexibility and freedom farming offers. Women are relishing the opportunity to carve out fulfilling careers that harmonise with their lifestyles and values.

At Arla, a farmers-owned cooperative, women play key roles at all levels of the global business. As part of ITN Business’ Global Gamechangers programme in 2023, our reporter visited their Taw Valley Creamery in Devon and a farm in Cornwall to learn more about how women are blazing new trails in food manufacturing and farming.

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Farmer Kate Hoare was brought up on a farm and thoroughly embraces her role as custodian of the land on the dairy farm she now works on. She and her husband Kevin are determined to recycle as much waste as possible, and adopt sustainable practises wherever they can.

Their tractor, for example, runs on biofuel produced sustainably on the farm. Essentially it runs on cow manure, with its engine designed to run purely on methane.  

“We can harness the methane on-farm and fill the tractor to then use the methane,” Kate explains. “It doesn’t have to go anywhere [to be processed]. It’s all processed on-farm. So, literally everything that goes into the cow and comes out the other end is completely usable.”

“We’ve gone into the sustainable world, if you like, trying to make sure that everything we do is done in a sustainable manner, which fits really nicely with Arla and their ethos.”

EXPLORE MORE: Farming a Greener Future

As a farmer-owned cooperative, Arla Foods is proud that women are not only farmers, but feature at all levels of the business, including managers and directors; all producing quality dairy to the highest standards.

Positioning food manufacturing as a worthy career option is something the company is keen to highlight.

“I think that we’ve got more females in the industry now, and certainly I’ve seen more females in senior positions,” says Anne-Frances Ball, Vice-President of Arla UK Production. “But I think the characteristic of the industry itself has changed significantly. We’ve got a lot more automation; in terms of the perceived manual aspects of the food industry — a lot of those have changed now. We’ve got a lot more digital aspects to the role so the jobs themselves have changed.” 

Anne-Frances Ball, VP of Arla UK Production

Site Director at Arla Foods’ Taw Valley dairy farm, Maria Chacon Cubo, explains that supporting and encouraging more women into the farming and food manufacturing industry has been a key priority.

“It’s really important for us here at Arla to nurture female talent, and we do it in different ways. One way is looking at projects, and different opportunities for our female talents to learn. We also encourage a lot of dairy technician apprenticeships, and we encourage a lot of leadership training. One of the main areas [I’m focused on] is mentoring and coaching. I currently mentor six people, four of whom are female.”

Maria Chacon Cubo, Site Director at Taw Valley.

This investment is already paying off in Arla’s bespoke dairy apprenticeship programme. Since it started, it’s had over 50% female participation. While women are well represented in senior roles — for the UK overall, it’s at over 30%.

The company is not only on a mission to revolutionise its diverse roles and opportunities, but also to promote its purpose.

“We’ve got a much greater responsibility to explain what an amazing job it is to work in the food industry. People eat what we make; we feed our children what we make, and that’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also amazing,” says Anne-Frances.

Modern technology is making food production easier to manage, and flexible hours for some roles make the industry an attractive one.

“I enjoy the farm and the children because it gives me that freedom to say, right, I’ve put that line of cows on to milk, now I’m just going to run and check on the children. Or, when I finish the morning milking on a Saturday, we’ll go down to the field and play in the stream. It does give you that flexibility. I’m my own boss; or rather, we are our own boss,” says Kate.

Anne-Frances enjoys the freedom and flexibility that her role gives her, too.

“Although I have a big job, I make sure it doesn’t overwhelm my life,” she says. “So, things like always being at home for my children’s birthdays; always picking the phone up if the school rings, things like that are what makes sure that I keep my boundaries with my work and my home.”

“We’re looking at different ways of recruiting people [in our manufacturing sites] that are at different stages of their life, and trying to make the roles fit them,” says Maria. “I think the future of manufacturing will head more that way, to attract new talent and new ways of thinking, and to make sure we have a more diverse workforce.”

Launching International Women’s Day, 8th March 2024

ITN Business are producing ‘Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve‘, a news-style programme anchored by veteran broadcaster Louise Minchin from the ITN London studio.

The programme will showcase organisations and individuals that are actively working to challenge assumptions, positively address women’s health issues, close the gender health gap, and improve health outcomes for women.