Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Women in a new age of farming


At first glance, farming might appear like a way of life that is as old as the hills. But when you look closer, it is clear that farming is a modern profession – and one that is certainly not stuck in the mud.

Modern farming practices are increasingly challenging any parochial view that some Kiwis have about the industry. Gone are the days of simply mucking in and hoping for the best. Farming today involves new technologies and harnessing big data to drive decision-making. And coupling these innovations with an increased emphasis on animal welfare, soil nutrition and environmental stewardship.

Farming has always been competitive. Understanding crop rotation, grazing, nutrient profiles of soil and transport logistics are just some of the factors that farmers have to get right in order to be successful. Being a successful modern farmer can often feel like being equal parts labourer, scientist and businessperson.

Increasingly, connections and networks are a vital part of being a farmer in the 2020s. This is where women in the agri-sector are definitely starting to have more of a visible impact.  Just look at the excellent work of the Agri Women’s Development Trust, Dairy Women’s Network or Rural Women NZ.

Women have always been an important part of farming but now they are more visible than ever and are taking on more prominent roles. For some this means physically running operations, and for others taking charge of finance, monitoring and compliance, and getting more involved in industry and governance

The agri-sector – so crucial to New Zealand’s recovery – needs its board rooms to look a lot more like any other room of New Zealanders.  There is no reason why we can’t see more women directors. Across my directorships and other roles, I do what I can to encourage others to throw their hat in the ring.

New Zealand has a strong reputation as a world leader in farming innovation. To maintain that and continue the trend into the future, it is vital that the profession attracts a diverse range of the best and brightest people New Zealand has to offer. This drive for talent doesn’t start or finish in the boardroom, but it is a good indicator of how the trend towards diversity is tracking.

A year ago, NZX diversity statistics revealed that the proportion of women in the country’s board rooms increased to 28.4 per cent. But the countries we like to compare ourselves to are doing better. Latest data for the ASX200 shows 29.5 per cent of Australia's directors are women and 32.1 per cent are in the FTSE100 (Financial Times Stock Exchange).

In my experience, farming directors who happen to be female are resourceful, determined and empathetic. A better New Zealand depends on smarter farming more than ever so the stakes are high. A better outcome in agsector boardrooms will maximise the chance of this vision becoming a reality. 

Nicky Hyslop farms a sheep, beef and arable irrigated property just outside of Timaru. Nicky joined the Ravensdown board last year and is a representative for Area 2. She has 15 years of governance experience including directorships with Beef + Lamb, Irrigation New Zealand and Opuha Water.