Full House for the Annual RABDF Women in Dairy Conference - Cowsmo

Full House for the Annual RABDF Women in Dairy Conference

It was a full house for last week’s Women in Dairy Conference, sponsored by HSBC UK, held at Churchfields Farm, Droitwich and organised by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers.

The day included a varied speaker line up centred around driving diversity and sustainability. Organic dairy farmer Sophie Gregory, who farms in Dorset, explained alongside Debbie Wilkins – a farmer from the Severn Vale with a passion for regenerative practices – the different ‘roots’ you can follow when it comes to embarking on your own regenerative pathway into the industry.

Sophie explained how heathy soil ultimately leads to healthy cows, milk and consumers which is a mantra the farm stand by in their bid to be a circular business.

“To become as relatable as possible we need to be highlighting our relationship with our cows – showing our farms in real life – if the public are aware of the great life they have and the care they receive, it takes away the stigma around these animals eventually entering the food chain.”

By getting out there and talking about what I do I am educating people and explaining how learning from our mistakes is an effective process says Ms Wilkins. “With this in mind get your team off farm to events to learn about how changes can be implemented regardless of system type.”

She continues: “Introducing a team to change is challenging but my advice would be to start by looking at your soil to understand what you have physically got. It’s always sensible to try anything new on your youngstock as this brings less risks than if you were to do it on your milking herd.

“It’s also important that staff are aware of the wider benefits of certain practices, rather than just the regenerative angle, for example, how planting a cover crop before maize makes the maize easier to get into the ground.”

Have you ever thought about diversity in agriculture? Or is it something that hasn’t really crossed your mind? You wouldn’t be in the minority if the latter rings true, that’s according to Navaratnam Partheeban (Theeb), a farm animal veterinary surgeon and co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society, who says the agricultural and dairy sector is the least diverse of its type in the UK when it comes to people.

In a thought-provoking session Theeb explained how history shapes our behaviour around diversity today. Off the back of a bursary Theeb was able to work alongside a colleague to investigate ‘racism together in mental health’ and find out exactly how much diversity is in the industry.

Only 0.8% of Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority backgrounds are involved in agriculture. If every one of us made a change then we could make a bigger systemic change on top of that from individuals says Theeb.

Theeb went on to explain how racial harassment is difficult to discuss if you are the targeted party. “It’s a complex web of systems where negative behaviour creates an unconscious bias which creates a stereotype and then prejudice, leading to discrimination.

“In order to move forward we need to accept we have a problem then look to educate ourselves on this before engaging and working towards inclusion. By understanding the UK and its population, particularly that outside of the farmgate, we will ultimately be able to familiarise ourselves with minority backgrounds to overcome the issues surrounding diversity.”

RABDF Council Member and dairy farmer Karen Halton chaired the day and said it was a pleasure to see so many women come together for a day of networking and knowledge sharing.

“With women a fundamental part of our industry it was great to see so many of them making the effort to get off-farm for the day. Playing a pivotal role in many businesses they are key in driving our sector forward.

“I hope everyone who came along on the day found the speaker sessions as informative and inspiring as I did – with plenty of thought provoking facts to take home with them.”

Award Winner
Hannah Rose was named the winner of this year’s Dairy Industry Woman of the Year Award. A 4th generation farmer who is making her own path by living and working as an assistant herdsperson at the Usk Prison Dairy Farm, passing on her knowledge and rehabilitating inmates.

Hannah’s fellow finalists were Sarah Devon, an area field manager for NMR (and relief milk recorder!), a regular milker on a dairy herd of 135 and volunteer facilitator for Devon Women in Dairy and Emma Hunt, first generation dairy farmer, operating a micro dairy in Hampshire.

The award, sponsored by HSBC, aims to celebrate the achievements of women in the dairy sector and is presented to the individual who has demonstrated the core values of Women in Dairy of connect, share, and inspire.

With the odds automatically against women in the industry, Hannah is busting these barriers daily, using her skills and knowledge to, quite literally, transform lives.

On top of her job at Usk Prison she documents all aspects of her farming life to help educate the wider public and has built up a following of over 10k followers on her Instagram account.

“I am extremely honoured to be presented with such a prestigious award and am earnestly grateful for the recognition I have received,” says this year’s award winner, Hannah Rose.

She added: “I’m aware that every other nominee for this award is doing an outstanding job within the industry. I just hope I can set an inspiring example and continue to be an advocate for women in dairy through increased visibility.”

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