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Interview with Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers’ Union

As the first woman ever to lead the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Minette Batters wants her legacy to be a ‘clear road’ for other women to lead the organisation and others like it.

The Wiltshire farmer, who runs a 100-head suckler herd and successful wedding diversification, was elected in 2018 after serving two terms as vice-president.

Since then, she has made regular appearances on national television and radio, grilled politicians, including the Prime Minister on agricultural policy, all whilst leading the union through what has undoubtedly been the biggest shakeup in farming since World War Two.

But the pressure she places on herself is just as acute now as it was when she took the NFU’s reins three years ago.

“I suppose I might be slightly more conscious than my male counterparts before me because it is a different pressure,” she says.

“The thought of ever doing anything wrong, in that when doing media work it is so easy to drop the ball or have a slip up that you are known for that – I am really aware of that.

“If I am on Newsnight or Question Time I really work hard on my briefings and knowing my subject because I want the road clear for future women to come forwards.”

When she was elected, Ms Batters made national headlines, but said she looked forward to the day when a woman in charge of an organisation was ‘not a news story’.

She drew similarities with jockey Rachael Blackmore, who, after securing her place in history as the first woman to win the Grand National, said she did not ‘feel male or female right now’, adding: “I don’t feel human.”

Ms Batters says: “When you watched Rachael Blackmore jumping that last fence you would not have known it was a woman or man, you just thought that is a really good jockey. And I just want people to think the same about me – not being seen as necessarily different, but as someone who did the job as NFU president as well as any male counterpart.

“Most important to me is doing the day job well and making sure the road Is paved for future women to be president of the NFU.”

She said the explosion of women in farming groups has been a useful tool in encouraging more women to come into the industry or move up the ladder, but said a balance needed to be struck.

Ms Batters adds: “I hear criticism from both men and women saying why do we have women in agriculture events and why can’t we have a more collective approach.

“I agree these groups need to speak to both men and women but this movement has brought more women off the farm and the more we can broaden horizons the better.”

Highlighting traditional family farming units, Ms Batters says that for some women, engaging with these groups has been ‘life changing’.

“People come up to me and say they are inspired to get off the farm and do other things.

“Even if it has not taken them into political roles like mine, it has got them involved with commercial boards, co-operatives and so on,” she adds.

“We just need to keep on showcasing what support is available, particularly now with the challenges around mental health and well-being.

“Women are often stuck with all the ‘other’ jobs and they put themselves last on the list. Women in agriculture is about saying there are lots of us in the same position and asking how we can support each other.

“This all has to be for the greater good of the industry. The more we can get farming families out there and engage with them, the better.”

And with agriculture increasingly being recognised for the societal benefits it brings, from its contribution to GDP, to food production the environment and its role in mitigating climate change, Ms Batters says there is a huge opportunity to attract new talent into the industry.

She adds: “With the focus on food, diet and climate change, the opportunities for agriculture and the associated jobs that go with it, everything is in place to attract a whole new generation of people.

“These are people who have probably never had access to or ever will have access to land, coming in and doing those jobs which are very different to what they were 10-15 years ago, never mind 50 years ago.

“Agriculture is about to transition into a major degree of revolutionary change in terms of what it offers. And, by its very name, ‘the culture of working the land’, I think it is something people will be drawn to, especially on the back of Covid.”


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