Women in Agriculture

30 June 2022

Since it was launched in 2020, the First Milk Women in Agriculture group has gone from strength to strength and now has 60 members. Find out from group participants about what the network has meant to them.

Women in Agriculture

In 2020, First Milk launched its Women in Agriculture (WIA) group in recognition of the vital role women play in farming businesses. Comprised of First Milk’s female members and farm staff, membership now stands around 60.

The group offers opportunity to share knowledge and experiences, connect with others and both seek support from and provide it to one another. Farming can be an isolating industry. By offering a safe and secure forum through which to share the highs and lows of farming life, the group provides a valuable network for women directly involved with First Milk farms.

Meetings are a mixture of in-person and virtual events, as well as the group connecting informally via a WhatsApp chat room.

The importance of diversity to team performance is a subject central to the group’s purpose and addressed in a virtual event last year. It is hoped a better understanding of the co-operative among group members leads to a greater interest in and involvement with the business. This could potentially include standing for positions on the Member Council and Board, improving diversity and gender equality across First Milk.

Through its activities, the group also aims to learn more about the challenges First Milk women face and how it can best deliver what members need to help overcome them. For example, after a lack of succession planning and poor inter-generational communication was identified as a common issue for members, a future meeting will feature experts working in this area.

Since 2020 the group has had real impact on its members, and we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate this success, sharing some of the group’s stories and what it has meant to them.

For more information or to join the group, please contact your local Area Manager or the Membership Team on 0141 847 6800 or membershipteam@firstmilk.co.uk.


Lottie Dunning

Since Lottie Dunning’s parents-in-law took a step back from running Raisgill Hall in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, she has become involved with the management of the farm alongside husband Mike. Lottie is passionate about ensuring the agricultural industry is futureproofed for their family and recognises the importance of promoting agriculture and dairy farming to the wider community. Lottie’s main aim is to re-educate consumers about farming, hoping to address some of the negative coverage seen on social media. As a former special needs teaching assistant, Lottie now hosts community farm visits to Raisgill Hall to demonstrate the high welfare on farm and the measures carried out to protect and enhance the environment. Like other WIA group members, she attended a two-day course run by the Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme (CEVAS) specifically designed for those organising educational farm visits.

“I gain loads of support from First Milk’s Women in Agriculture group. We love sharing our farming stories and pictures through our closed WhatsApp group. It helps me realise I’m not on my own and, as women farmers, we’re not a minority. It’s great hearing other women’s opinions, ambitions and achievements. I feel it makes us stronger and able to accomplish more. Farming can be isolating at times so it is brilliant to know there is someone on the same wavelength as you.”

Sarah Workman

Sarah is a qualified primary school teacher with 16 years of experience, specialising in early years. Farming with her husband Matthew on the edge of Carlisle, their proximity to an urban population led them to instigate several activities aimed at benefiting the local community. One of these was to convert a hay loft into a classroom in which Sarah runs pre-school phonics sessions, building children’s confidence and knowledge of letters and sounds in a fun and energetic way.

“All individuals have talents and strengths; it shouldn’t matter if they are male or female. I expect everyone to be treated with respect and it’s important to provide equal opportunities for education and employment. I believe we raise a safer and healthier society when we value women and men equally.

“First Milk’s Women in Agriculture group has been a great support to me. It is very comforting to be able to talk about jobs other women do on their farms, share diversification ideas and discuss problems we come across together.”

Sarah Ellwood

For Sarah Ellwood, farming is in the blood. Brought up on a farm, she says she knows nothing else, “I always say, if I win the lottery, I’d keep farming until the money ran out.”

Sarah and husband David are on Brough Castle farm, just north of Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, with 90 Friesian-cross dairy cows and 300 lambing ewes. Having diversified after foot and mouth in 2001, Sarah runs a separate business on the farm, Brough Castle Ice Cream Parlour and Tearoom. She makes her award-winning ice-cream from their own milk and has a mobile ice-cream trailer for use off-site. The tearoom season runs from March to November, but Sarah is fully involved with the farm being responsible for cow records year-round. She’s also passionate about sustainable agriculture and farming for future generations, Brough Castle farm being signed up to both the First4Milk Pledge and Regenerative Farming Plan.

“I’m really enjoying the Women in Agriculture group. I like chatting to the ladies and hearing all they are doing. They are great for asking advice and are always supportive. They really are an amazing bunch of ladies.”

Diane Buchanan

Diane and Robert Buchanan milk 115 cows in south Ayrshire with their son Douglas. The couple’s daughter, Ailsa, who graduates from her Veterinary medicine degree in July and starts work with Machars vet group in Bladnoch, also helps out whenever she can. Alongside the milking herd, Diane also has pedigree Ayrshires she enjoys showing at local and national summer shows.

Diane combines being a farmer with a nursing career, having worked as an Emergency Department nurse at Stranraer hospital for 32 years. An active member of the Women in Agriculture group, Diane shared her thoughts and advice in a blog about mental health and wellbeing in the farming community, drawing on her nursing experience and expertise. She encouraged other group members to “please be mindful of others and look for the signs something’s not quite right”. The blog attracted appreciative responses for its awareness and sensitivity in the group chat.

“I enjoy being involved in this group where we share a variety of interesting topics and photographs.”

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