Milly Wastie is a farming advocate in Rural Northampshire. Whilst her family didn’t work in agriculture Milly knew from a young age farming was what she wanted to do. Today she is the regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and a small food producer, falling ever more in love with the countryside.
What made you want to be a farmer?
I’m not from a farming background however I grew up in a rural area and so country life is in my blood. When I was 14 years old I joined the local young farmers club as there wasn’t much in the way of a social life going on past school hours.
Joining the young farmers provided me with the most wonderful social life, meeting likeminded young people and having bags of fun. I started to enter competitions in floral art, cookery and learnt about stock judging, public speaking and visiting farming businesses which started to get me hooked and develop me personally too.
Since then I’ve never looked back. I’m so passionate about agriculture as a career because of the diversity that it provides. The really satisfying thing for me is watching something grow and develop and you reap the rewards with the hard work you put in.
You don’t have to be born into farming to become a farmer or work in the industry. I feel that you must have a can do attitude, the ability to turn your hand to anything and a positive work ethic. This could relate to any type of industry or job though I suppose!
The gender balance within the industry is starting to become more on an even keel.
The Farmers Weekly recently did a survey relating to women in farming and there was a real attitude change to women running farm businesses and overall responsibility. However I know there is a long way to go with succession planning for example and I have come across the ‘old school’ mentality on many an occasion.
Why do you love what you do?
I love the outdoors and having my part to play in shaping the countryside. Being classed as a food producer is pretty cool and whilst you do work long hours it’s great to sit back and physically see what you have achieved. My favourite time of year is lambing and watching a new season of new life appear. And I also love communicating about food and farming with the journey from field to fork. With such a convenience lifestyle many lead, there is a generation of young people who have little or no idea about how and where food is produced further than from the supermarket shelf.
What is the thing you are most proud of having accomplished as a farmer and a promoter of the agricultural industry?
I am very proud of the fact that I was elected chairman of the national federation of young farmers clubs between 2013 and 2014 where I was able to represent the views of 24,000 young rural people across England and Wales. During my tenure I was able to champion new entrants into agriculture with the governments future of farming review, I spoke at numerous industry conferences, championed a rural road safety campaign and hopefully making a difference and providing opportunities to the membership.
How hard was it for you as a woman to progress? Could you give us an example of things running against you because of your gender?
I’m not going to lie, it has been very hard to progress and I’ve really had to push myself to get my views heard in a male dominated environment, especially as my background has not been in farming. I’m now well-known within farming circles and many people come up to me and say that I’ve inspired them or they give me praise saying to keep up the good work, it’s a fantastic feeling!
It’s sad to think that I have had to experience difficulties and bad feeling however my life motto is dare to be different and don’t be afraid to be bold. I don’t think I would be who I am if I had it easy and I’ve learnt many life lessons early on.
Often I walk into a room full of men and have to give a presentation. I can feel them sizing me up and I’ve learnt just to sock it to them so they have no reason to make me feel inferior. I do however feel there is still the perception that women are the home makers and the men do the grafting.
What should the industry do to bring more women into it? And how should it help them progress?
I’m an advocate of farming ambassadors as I think this is a great way of promoting the different career opportunities available. I was asked to be a part of a project called Bright Crop which gather different case stories together and acts as a portal to wannabe farmers of the future.
I’ve also been a part of a group called Ladies in Agriculture that meet regularly to discuss important topics and support one another. I was inspired to set up the twitter account @LadiesinAg which highlights successful women and now have followers across the globe. It’s got a long way to go but is gathering lots of speed which is great. Whether it acts as a support tool to ladies in agriculture or a platform to showcase to others what we do, it can only be positive.
What would be your pro tip to aspiring women farmers?
Challenge the norm and if you see an opportunity go for it. Or if you want an opportunity – make it happen!