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Publication - Research Publication

Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report

Published: 23 Jun 2017
Part of:
Farming and rural

Findings and recommendations from research into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.

187 page PDF


187 page PDF


Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report
4 Farm Women's Daily Lives

187 page PDF


4 Farm Women's Daily Lives

Research findings are organised under the five headings identified in the original tender (daily life; aspirations; career paths; leadership; and comparative analysis with other family businesses), with three additional headings included, representing important findings emergent from the data: inheritance, training and farm safety. All participants gave their informed consent to participate. The question guides and questionnaires are included in Appendices A- C.

Key findings

Women's daily lives are very varied. Activities depend on stage in the life cycle, type of farm, off-farm work, and whether they work full-time. Women juggle off-farm work around the needs of the farm: for example, they take holidays from off-farm work during the lambing season.

Women are clearly involved in the full range of farming activities, most commonly family care/household management (85%), running errands (79%), administration and book keeping (67%), and livestock care in various forms (65%). This is largely consistent with the skills they identified contributing to their farms. Women are heavily involved in farm finances.

In general, women retain responsibility for domestic work and child care. They are very busy, juggling childcare, farm work, housework and off-farm work.

Over half of main survey respondents work off-farm; some 39.7% of main survey respondents volunteer (in both cases, about 40% of these activities are within the agricultural sector).

New entrants work particularly long hours, and are very dynamic and committed.

One woman described women's daily lives as a 'sticky floor'; she said that all of women's daily life duties are as much a barrier to women's career progression as a glass ceiling. 'Lack of time' is a major barrier to women's further engagement in farm leadership.

4.1 Qualitative Analysis of Farm Women's Daily Lives

The family and farm are tightly intertwined. It is a family business. It is very difficult to answer what women in agriculture do in their daily lives. There is no typical woman, and women's roles vary by age, life cycle factors (childcare, elderly care), type and size of farm (crofts to estates), and whether women work full time on the farm or off the farm. Presented here are examples of how the women interviewed describe their daily lives:

It's a family farm so I mean works with his father as well. I just do's no daily routine, its just -Yeah as needed and I'm over at the farm every day you know... daily tasks it depends on the time of year because now it's kind of quite slow because we've done silage, silage is's more maintenance and bits 'n' pieces which they dot about with...I was out feeding beasts when she was about a week old! So winter time its feeding beasts, and checking stock, and stuff like that and if there's anything to do. Like if we need to take the cows in and dose them we do all that.

Interviewer: Who does the paperwork and the administration?

Me and his mum, which will probably get handed over to me at some point. # Young new entrant woman # 1 with small baby

It is obvious that this woman is very involved. She married into the farm although has her own component of the business too. Her work is dependent on the seasons in the same way it is for farming generally. In addition, she juggles childcare.

This woman below is very typical of new entrants, who tend to work very long hours. When both partners have entered farming together, there is evidence of a very equal division of labour and equal gender relations:

We both work full-time so it's...weekends and night-time we do our farming. Generally through the week I look after our daughter my husband will go outside and do the work and then the weekends its very much both of us. I tend to probably do a lot more paperwork, accounts than he does and he would do more physical than I do but any decisions are made between the two of us. 100% it is yeah. Weekends we're full on, we're full on, we'll go out first thing in the morning, and we're usually out to nine, ten at night. Unfortunately farming is just what we love and what we do. Night-time is the same, you get home from work about six and we'll be out till eight, nine every night depending on the time of year. Obviously lambing time we take holidays, we take...our holidays are basically sheep time so yeah. A fair bit of time. I would do the majority of the paper stuff, the accounts, the VAT returns, the IACS forms, um...just general record keeping. # Young new entrant woman #3

While the woman above describes a very busy life, she is very clear that she loves it, and so does her husband. Many women spoke about how they juggle off-farm work and the farm and take leave at busy times:

We've got friends that, females, that working full-time on the farm and having to juggle having their family around lambing time and calving time so they can get back out there. So I think that is a difficult one because it's not like a job where you can say somebody else will....well you can get somebody to cover but the nature of farming… # Woman married in to farm #4

The woman below works almost full-time off the farm. She combines this with heavy involvement in the farm, child care, caring for her husband, and she also combines leave when it is lambing time. This is a long quote but it is very typical of the amount of juggling that goes on in women's daily lives and how this can be exacerbated if the man working on the farm has an accident:

I work four days a week in town and travelling so that's 30 hours a week plus the travelling and… other days I just kind of fit things in. It just depends...I mean, my mother-in-law is kind of increasingly pushing accountancy things towards me much to my...reluctance. But...yeah you've got to do the PAYE and stuff like that but...and I must admit is pretty good at his own paperwork and stuff so generally I just help out's things like going to the vet, or with clipping you know, chasing sheep in, feeding people, but...the kids are...well they're grown up now but I also have a six year old grandson so I have him sometimes as well so... it's just a kind of juggling...I mean I do, lambing time I take time off work to help with that....and that kind of time of year is hard because you go out before you go to your job, and then you go out when you come back. You come back at night to feed everybody, then you go back out and so sometimes of the year it is tough. My husband had a bad accident last year. The harvest wasn't in, the cows were calving, there was grain piled up everywhere. There was beasts needing taken in… he wasn't fit to organise things so he just handed me his phone and went 'right, you've just got to think.' Focus group #1 Women in agriculture.

Women have busy lives and they juggle their involvement in the farm business, with family responsibilities, and off-farm employment.

Sometimes women expressed frustration at the constraints in their daily lives:

So when I met him we had our children really quickly and I would say 'oh, I wish we could do a swap, see what it's like' and he would say 'oh well, you'd have to drive a tractor straightaway' and it was like...there were all these barriers to me being involved, and to be honest I don't want to drive a tractor, but there are other things I think I could bring to the farming business and I didn't want to do the accounts! You know there's lots that I could have done but it wasn't 'proper farming' and so I feel our family the things that I would have been welcome to do, like do the accounts, like feed them at lunchtime, those would have been really welcome that I could have brought...but I didn't want to do that at all. It felt for me that there wasn't much space for me to do kind of creative things that were a bit strange. # Women in agriculture focus group

Women who work in the agricultural industry recognised women as an untapped source, who were innovative, but also hard to reach:

I think it's something of our teams has very much identified is that women are crucial in terms of being catalysts for change in terms of getting the farm business to adopt new technology, or you know even engage in the idea of it. But it's do we get to them, how do we free them up to do that. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Well yeah it's like oh if I'm helping with an appeal, say cattle records, or sheep records or whatever, oh the wife did this, the wife did that. And you're kind of like, take responsibility! If you don' it yourself then you can't really blame somebody else. So quite often I'm finding that the behind the scenes work is done a lot more by the females. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

It's the female quite often, not...again I'm being quite general here but in terms of...I deal with subscriptions and quite often when you're asking people like who haven't paid their sub, if you're asking for money if you speak to the man he's always like 'oh, I need to speak to the Mrs, she's the one with the cheque book!' And it's quite often the wife that makes the decision about whether or not they pay and it's because they know whether the farm is in a position to pay or not. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

In each of the cases above, we see different components of women's daily lives. Agricultural specialists and those involved in agricultural industries have identified women as innovative and catalysts for change. In another instance, women's role in keeping records and passports for animals becomes obvious. In the third example, women's overview of the financial situation is described, which is a consequence of their responsibility for the farm accounts in their daily lives.

One woman summed up the general discussions about daily lives in a very eloquent and succinct way. She felt that the barrier to women's success was not the glass ceiling, but more the 'sticky floor' of their everyday lives:

It's funny, having worked in the wider industry there feels more barriers in the wider industry but I'm not sure that the barriers aren't...people talk about the glass ceiling. I'm not sure it's not a sticky floor!

Interviewer: Go on!

Well just...when you were talking about family I think family is a massive sticky floor! [Laughter] I suppose I don't think there's kind of necessarily outward people trying to prevent...the glass ceiling implies - Ahead rather than know...women having to balance lots of different parts to their lives which quite often involves working part-time and which therefore makes progress up any kind of career ladder quite difficult. Um...or requires a lot of support at home. # Focus group new entrants

Women retain responsibility for domestic, household and child care duties. The gendered division of labour in the household has direct implications for women's careers outside of the home.

4.2 Quantitative Analysis of Farm Women's Daily Lives

In terms of the on-line surveys, it is clear that women are involved in the full range of family farming activities (see Figure 4.2a). These activities were most commonly family care/household management (85%), running errands (79%), administration and book keeping (67%) and livestock care in various forms (65%). This is largely consistent with the skills they identified contributing to their farms ( e.g. 75% identified livestock husbandry skills, 66% accounting skills and 63% home crafts). Respondents clearly see themselves as carrying out multiple, overlapping roles, with 64% of main survey respondents identifying themselves as a 'working woman', followed by 'farmer's wife' (36%), 'farmer' (33%), 'homemaker' (33%), 'career woman' (25%), 'crofter' (16%), caregiver (13%) and land manager (9%).

Figure 4.2a: Main survey - percentage of respondents participating in each activity
Figure 4.2a: Main survey – percentage of respondents participating in each activity.

Women also clearly bring a high level of skills to their farms, evident in their high level of educational achievement. Main survey respondents tended to be somewhat more highly educated than would be expected of male farmers, with 32% having achieved a university degree, although analysis of female responses to the CAP Intentions Survey [3] demonstrated a similarly high educational level amongst female farm operators of profit-oriented farms, with 27% having achieved university degrees, in comparison to 16% of male farm operators (Sutherland et al., 2016). The higher level in this present survey likely reflects the lower average age of survey respondents. Women who were not raised on farms ('non-farm' in Figure 4.2b) particularly bring a high level of educational achievement into their farms.

Figure 4.2b - level of education by percentage of cohort (not raised on a farm, not raised on a farm but spent a lot of time on a farm growing up = 'near farming', raised on a farm)
Figure 4.2b – level of education by percentage of cohort (not raised on a farm, not raised on a farm but spent a lot of time on a farm growing up = 'near farming', raised on a farm)

In relation to off-farm employment, nearly half of respondents reported working off farm, with about one quarter doing so on a full-time basis. About 43% of this is within the agricultural sector.

Table 4.2a: Percentage of main survey respondents working in the agriculture sector

If in paid employment: is this within the agricultural sector? (n=656) (%)
No 57.6
Yes, all within the agricultural sector 32.6
Yes, some within the agricultural sector 9.8

Some 40% also volunteer (of which 1/3 is within the agricultural sector) and 18% are caring for children on a full time or part-time basis. Well over half (58%) of respondents have a spouse who works full-time off farm. Approximately 28.9% reported that their husbands also volunteer, some 15.3% in the agricultural sector.

Women play an important role in decision-making on farms, but many would like to increase this role. Over half of respondents have a role in both day to day decision-making and major decisions but almost 20% stated they had no role in decision-making (table 4.2b).

Table 4.2b: Role of women in decision-making on their farms (main survey)

How would you describe your role in farm decision-making? (%) (n=892)
I have a role in both day to day decision-making and major decisions 55.8
I have no role in farm decision-making 19.2
I have a role in day to day decision-making 15.5
I have a role in major decisions (such as new land or machinery development) 9.5
Are you a legal partner in the farming business? (n=872)
No 47.9
Yes, I am a senior partner 29.1
Yes, I am a director in the company 8.1
Yes, I am a junior partner 5.7
Yes, but only part of the business 4.6
No, but I am a partner in other family-held businesses and/or assets 4.5

The survey also found that some 53% would like a bigger role in decision-making and 58% agreed that they discuss decisions with their spouse but the spouse has final say. About 15% of the respondents appear to be the primary decision-maker on their holding. Partnership in parts of the business, or other family-held businesses likely reflects the engagement of women in farm diversification activities (which are sometimes operated as separate businesses). In some cases, partnership is restricted to the direct inheritors of the farm business ( e.g. to a farmer's sons but not the sons' wives).

Respondents believe their role on farms is very important (90%), but some 35% think their career is progressing more slowly than they would like and 41% that their skills are under-utilised on farm.

Crofting appears to be somewhat more egalitarian than farming. During the interviews and focus groups with men and women on crofts, they suggested that crofting has always been more equal because the croft depended on off-croft work. Sometimes men would migrate for work for several months and during this time women were responsible for all the decision-making. Women on crofts were more likely to indicate a strong role in decision-making, with 81% indicating that they have a role in both major and day to day decisions. This stronger role of women in decision-making was characteristic of smaller farms in general (see table 4.2c)

Table 4.2c: Women's role in decision making by farm size

Role in decision-making less than 10 ha 10-19.9 20-49.9 50-99.9 100-199.9 200 ha or above
No role in decision-making 6.8 14.1 8.2 18.3 19.6 25.1
Role in day-to-day decisions only 9.3 10.9 17.5 15.9 20.2 15
Role in major decisions 83.9 75 74.2 65.9 60.11 59.9

However, some 43% of crofting respondents stated that they would like a bigger role in decision-making.

It could be expected that this role in decision-making would vary depending on how the land was acquired ( e.g. whether the farm is inherited directly or via a spouse, or acquired directly). Women who personally sought out (purchased or acquired tenure, some 6.6% n=54), do tend to have a much stronger say in decision-making, whereas women who inherited land through her side of the family still express difficulty in getting their ideas into the farming business. The importance of inheritance is further discussed in Section 5.6.

Survey respondents also identified a number of barriers to the advancement of their roles on-farm (see table 4.2d). Chief amongst these was lack of time. Although both men and women are highly active on farm and frequently work both on and off-farm, women typically continue to carry the primary responsibility for household and family care, identifying the priority they place on their children as the second most common barrier.

Table 4.2d Women identified the following barriers to advancing their role on the farm

Which of the following are barriers to women advancing their role on the farm as a land manager? (Can tick more than one option) (n=816)
Lack of time 71.8
Prioritise children 53.9
Lack of financial resources 52.3
Lack of opportunities 51.0
Perceived lack of skills 46.2
Women not seen as farmers 37.9
Not welcome male dominated 25.5

4.3 Concluding Remarks

Women's daily lives are very busy in farming are very busy with a variety of tasks. They juggle farm work, child care, domestic roles, and off farm employment. They often provide full cover on the farm, and frequently combine annual leave with the needs of the farm. It is a family business, and family and business react to the needs of each other. These daily life duties are described by one woman as the 'sticky floor' that limit women's career opportunities. Women's continued domestic and child care responsibilities have implications for their careers outside of the family.