First National Women in Agriculture Awards celebrates diversity in our industry

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A total of 12 women have been honoured as winners in a new awards scheme designed to recognise and reward women in agriculture.

The first-ever National Women In Agriculture Awards was a spectacular black-tie event held in the members’ dining room of the House of Commons on 9 May 2024. This prestigious venue was chosen to reflect and celebrate the valuable work women in agriculture do.

Minette Batters, former president of the National Farmers Union, was given the Lifetime Achievement award, sponsored by Co-op, to a standing ovation and lengthy applause, in her acceptance speech she said that she had always thought about younger women throughout her career and the role models those in more senior positions could provide. Her award was one of 12 covering a broad range of areas where women are making their mark on the agriculture industry.

The awards were judged by a panel of female food and farming leaders who know the industry inside out, including Tonia Antoniazzi MP, a prominent supporter of food and farming. The evening was hosted by comedian Jo Caulfield and guests celebrated into the early hours.

The other winners on the night included Julie Eccleston of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, who was named Supply Chain Woman of the Year, sponsored by Goodyear Farm Tires, for her instrumental role in growing the business over 17 years.

The Employer of the Year award was given to Poultry Health Services, a poultry veterinary company created by Sara Perez in 2018, whose passion and determination to develop young women within the business shone through. Sara currently leads a team of 25 vets, of which more than half are female vets from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.

Abi Reader MBE, of Goldsland Farm, was a double award winner, being named Agricultural Influencer of the Year, sponsored by Noble Foods and Farming Woman of the Year, sponsored by Nestle UK & Ireland. Abi Reader’s vlog of her experience of TB helped communicate the devastating effect of the disease to a wide audience and her campaigning spirit has helped amplify farming voices in her native Wales and beyond.

Agricultural Advisor of the Year was Ruth Farrell, of DJM Consulting. She is an independent rural business consultant, chartered surveyor, and agricultural valuer. She is also the youngest rural arbitrator in England and Wales.

The Innovator of the Year award, sponsored by Dunbia, went to Jenna Ross, OBE, the creator of the slug-bot. She currently works for the UK Government funded Agri-Tech centres, bringing together leading scientists, farmers, and advisors.

The Rising Star of the Year, sponsored by Morrisons, was Eleanor Gilbert, whose passion for farming shone through. She combines working on a fifth-generation family farm with her studies at Harper Adams University and finds time to do innovative crop trials as well as writing for farming magazines and putting in the occasional appearance on Countryfile.

Kay Helyar, of the DPJ Foundation was named Training and Education Woman of the Year, sponsored by First Milk, and the award was accepted by the charity’s founder Emma O’Sullivan. The DPJ Foundation is a truly inspiring charity, providing mental health help and support to farming people. Kay Helyar has helped deliver training to over 1,500 people since she joined the charity in 2016.

Sarah Millar of Quality Meat Scotland was named Trade Organisation Woman of the Year. As chief executive of Quality Meat Scotland, Sarah Millar invited every politician in Scotland onto a farm in the six weeks leading up to COP26 to talk about food and farming and has also been instrumental in developing a red meat net zero roadmap.

The Sustainability Champion Award, sponsored by HSBC UK, went to Olivia Shave of Ecoewe. As part of her dedication to low-impact farming, Olivia Shave is a passionate custodian of the land. Her business makes use of every part of the animal including producing rugs and jumpers with zero waste.

The Business of the Year Award went to Pinstone, a PR and marketing business serving the food, farming and environment sectors, led by women and with a largely female staff. It is excellent at what it does and helps communicate the work of agricultural businesses to a wider audience.

(L-R): Jo Caulfield, Catherine Linch – Pinstone, Judith Batchelar of Food Matters International

A spokesperson for principal sponsor Nestlé UK and Ireland, said: “We have been working directly with UK farmers for many years and have always recognised the incredible work that is done every day by our female farmers. Often, this effort goes unrecognised outside of the farms, which is why we are very proud to sponsor these awards and help shine a light on the amazing work done by female farmers in the UK.”

Sophie Throup, technical and sustainability director – Manufacturing, Morrisons, who is serving on the judging panel, said: “A diversity of views, ideas and ways of working is absolutely key to help deliver on so many areas in farming, from producing tasty British food to caring for our environment and helping consumers understand where their food comes from. At Morrisons, we know the value of diversity and work hard to provide more opportunities for women to progress. That’s why we’re delighted to be supporting these new awards, recognising female talent in agriculture, and in particular, those rising stars who are coming forward to help secure a bright future.”

Martin Hanson, head of agricultural banking at HSBC UK, said: “HSBC UK has a dedicated team providing specialist financial support and guidance to farmers and growers when they need it most. Our network of agriculture managers understands that many of the most successful agricultural businesses we work with have diverse leadership teams, and as such we’re delighted to be reinforcing the importance of this in the farming sector by supporting the first Women in Agriculture Awards.”

A spokesperson for Noble Foods said: “At Noble Foods, we’re proud to be part of the National Women in Agriculture Awards because we believe in celebrating the remarkable contributions of women in the agricultural industry. Their drive, innovation, and resilience are integral to the growth and success of our sector, and we are committed to supporting and empowering women in agriculture to thrive and inspire future generations.”

The awards scheme was organised by Mark Allen Group, which is the publisher of Farmers Weekly and organises other farming events including the National Pig Awards, National Egg & Poultry Awards and the National Arable & Grassland Awards.

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