The success for women will be when being a woman in farming isn’t news worthy,” says National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters.

In February 2018, Minette, who manages a tenanted family farm situated in Wiltshire and is mother to 15 year-old twins, became the first woman to become president in the NFU’s history – quickly making headlines.

Minette is now over half way through her two-year term and her thoughts on the momentous moment, and on women in the farming industry are candid.

“In farming you don’t want to be singled out, women and men have been farming for millenniums. It’s just a moment in time and I find it frustrating when it always comes back to the ‘first woman’.

“As women farmers we just want to be treated equally, we want it to be a level playing field but with that said, if I can empower more women to get involved and for more youngsters to go to agriculture college, then it’s a really good thing.”

Against the grain

Growing up, Minette was a talented calf rearer and despite her father’s beliefs, her dream was to be a farmer.

“Dad didn’t think women should farm so he was very against me going to agriculture college. I didn’t take any notice and it probably made me more determined.

“I did all the calf rearing before I went to school and I never used to lose a calf. I remember this one calf was really sick, all the good bacteria in its guts had gone and the vet said: ‘If you go into the abattoir, you could do with getting some fresh rumen (fluid).’

“I remember getting my mum to drive me (there was an abattoir close to Minette’s home). I was only 15 going into the abattoir asking for some fresh rumen for my calf. I drenched the calf and it made a full recovery.”

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Minette’s parents farmed in partnership with their landlords and had no succession tenancy, her father telling her that when they retired “that’s it for the farm”.

And so Minette grew up thinking that the farm would not be there for her. She went to London and trained as a chef, managing a bespoke catering business and a pub for a few years before life took her back home.

“The partnership had come to the end. My parents were in a very fragile 12-month tenancy and my dad’s health was failing, the farm had been scaled right back and we had 20 suckler cows, that was it. I met the landlords and said: ‘There are two derelict cottages on the farm yard (that were listed so couldn’t be knocked down), how about we take the cottages on, we do them up rent free, will you let us take on the rest of the farm?’

“They agreed so that was how I got into farming. I started farming in the mid ’90s with 18 suckler cows and it all started there.”


Diversification has been an important part of growing Minette’s farming business and her experience off farm was pivotal in doing so.

“We were able to run an on-farm catering business. We now have a wedding business and we have weddings every week of the year.

“We have a 100-cow suckler herd, a small flock of pedigree sheep and an arable rotation that works around the farm.

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“Diversification isn’t for everyone. I had worked in a different area and with people so I was well suited to it, but for some people running a farm and a diversification that brings other people on to the farm is quite challenging. What I do think farmers will need to do is to be able to manage their risk. It’s been quite a tough journey and I had never factored in doing this job (as NFU president) so that’s been a game changer. Growing up, I always wanted to farm one day and in the end, hard work made it possible.”


It is a crucial time to be a leader in the agriculture sector with the current situation of Brexit, among other things.

“Although many people think that the UK prime minster leaving will solve everything, there are still only three ways that we can move on; we leave with a deal, we leave without a deal, or we don’t leave at all.

“You can change the leader but you don’t change the dynamics. We have maintained from day one that a no deal is catastrophic for our industry and there are many reasons why we say that, not least the tariff schedule that was brought in was helpful for some sectors but not for others.

Maintaining a close working relationship with the UFU has been important

“We’ll continue to fight for what farmers need and to make sure that we have a good trading relationship with Europe.”

The NFU works closely with the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU, Northern Ireland), NFU Cymru (Wales), and NFU Scotland to ensure that Brexit does not damage the future of agriculture in the UK.

“Maintaining a close working relationship with the UFU has been important but really respecting the devolved nature of working. We’re four countries and one nation, but those four countries have very different ways of wanting to implement policy.

“It has been really important for me and for all of them that we speak with one voice, so we meet and speak regularly. We’ve been able to write to all MPs twice now, all 650 MPs, on behalf of the four presidents.”

Carbon sinks

Minette believes that positive promotion of the farming industry is the best way to address the vegan movement and animal rights activists.

Diets may change, may evolve, but it’s absolutely right that we maintain our carbon sinks through our livestock system

“We must not allow the voice of the few to undermine our industry. I think it’s absolutely right that the UK produces grass, we should be producing high-quality low-carbon livestock and we shouldn’t be making the link between consumption and production.

“Diets may change, may evolve, but it’s absolutely right that we maintain our carbon sinks through our livestock system. It’s the best way of converting grass, which we’re not going to eat, and we wouldn’t want to disturb those carbon sinks because it’s 10 billion tons worth of carbon, and livestock is the best way of maintaining it.

“Veganism is a lifestyle choice but we need to stick robustly behind the positive message of our livestock industry and make sure that it’s part of a healthy diet.”

Mental Health

Minette recently spoke at a mental health resilience conference organised by NFU Mutual, who established the Farm Safety Foundation, which is responsible for the Mind Your Head campaign.

“Health and safety, mental health and wellbeing, and raising awareness is as important as anything else that we’re (NFU) working on. It’s been really good to encourage people to talk about mental health, to break down the stigma and we’ll never be able to do enough in that area. It’s important that we focus on helping other people and making sure that there is help on offer.

“I think we’re making progress but we’ll never do enough, we have to keep at it and keep talking about it, and it’s really important at this moment in time when the industry faces so much change and uncertainty.”

Farming worldwide

Minette is a trustee of Farm Africa, which works to reduce poverty in eastern Africa by helping farmers grow and sell more. This year she ran the London Marathon for Farm Africa alongside three others to raise money for female farmers in Uganda who are trading coffee in the UK and across the globe.

“Farm Africa is part of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and just before the referendum I was at the WFO general assembly in Zambia. It’s really interesting when you work with all the world farmers – Europeans, New Zealanders, Russians, Japanese, Americans and Africans were all there.

When I was in Zambia there was a South African farmer who was doing a presentation about how they were really challenged by on-farm murder and torture, not just the farmers, but the people who worked on the farms

“We can never drive change if we don’t get on to the big policy forums. Through the WFO, we’ve been able to get a table at the United Nations (UN) looking at food poverty and we’ve also been able to get on the World Food Security Committee, which had no farmer representation on it. There are certain things that world farmers have to work together on to ensure that their voice is heard.

“When I was in Zambia there was a South African farmer who was doing a presentation about how they were really challenged by on-farm murder and torture, not just the farmers, but the people who worked on the farms. It was a really moving presentation. I came back here to the referendum and I just thought: ‘We don’t know we are born, we have this challenge but we’re farming in peace time and we have food on our tables.’

“It helps to look outside, to put things into perspective and it also helps us through the deficit budget to influence our government that farming is really important and farming is how you drive change in other parts of the world that are disadvantaged.”

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