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Growing number of females shaping farming’s future

For 22-year-old Ellie Dowling, entering the farming scene after she left school was a no-brainer. She “always felt like it was the right thing to do”.

Originally from the Kāpiti Coast, in August 2019 Dowling moved to Wairarapa, where she now works on a sheep and beef farm 20 minutes out of Masterton and helps as a relief milker on another farm during the on-season.

Now with some farming experience under her belt, Dowling says the favourite parts of her job is working with her sheepdogs, and lambing time.

“I grew up in town, but I would spend most of my school holidays or whenever I could at my grandparents or with friends on farms,” Dowling said.

“I’ve always been into it, always felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Dowling was a part of the first intake of Growing Future Farmers – a two-year practical programme that aims to accelerate the careers of school leavers from entry-level Essential Farm Skills through to Advanced Farm Skills and Business Management.

Dowling hopes to one day have her own block of land in Wairarapa but, in the meantime, she wants to keep working on her four sheepdogs.

We’re already seeing indications of how young female farmers are influencing the way New Zealanders will farm in the future in different sectors.

Just over a year ago, [then] Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri noted how the government had “committed $473,261 over two years through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to enable and empower women working in the dairy sector”.

“This programme aims to create more value, develop new practices and support our extremely capable rural women into the future. It will also ensure diversity in the primary sector leadership of Aotearoa NZ, which I welcome,” Whaitiri said.

“These strong social connections and access to tools and support from this programme will help build resilience, both for these women and for their farming businesses.”

Rural Women New Zealand National President Gill Naylor told the Times-Age there are some fantastic opportunities out there, and many women are making the most of them.

A prime example of this is Emma Poole, who won the FMG Young Farmer of the Year 2023 earlier last month – the first woman to ever be awarded the title in the 55-year history of the competition.

“We are really heartened by the wide range of efforts being made to empower and respect women in primary industries in general.

“There is, of course, always more work to be done. If we concentrate on providing a safe, healthy and welcoming work environment for all, with acknowledgement of the roles that women play in farming and other primary industries, we can’t go far wrong,” Naylor said.

“Women living on farms and in rural areas are not always farmers or food producers. Our rural communities are very diverse, and with online services improving, there are so many entrepreneurial women out there operating a wide range of businesses from home, or small local towns, which all adds to the viability and diversity of our rural communities.”

Catherine van der Meulen, co-founder of Girls who Grow [GwG] – an organisation encouraging young women to explore careers in agriculture – said 32 per cent of the farming and agriculture industry is women.

GwG’s aim isn’t necessarily to have 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female in the agriculture industry but van der Meulen hopes to have more of a balance of approaches at the table, as she believes it is important, as is diversity.

“With New Zealand’s food and fibre sector accounting for per cent 81 per cent of exports, GwG is providing pathways to enter this vital industry for young women, who are currently underrepresented with only six per cent of school leavers involved,” van der Meulen said.

“GwG wants to help inspire the voices of our future female changemakers, leaders, and environmental guardians.”

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