Top level decision-making in NFUS remains a male bastion

No criticism of the 21 men who comprise NFU Scotland’s board of directors after the union’s annual meeting last week, but a photograph of their line up emphasises yet again what a male-centric business farming is.

What emphasises it even more is that below the photo of NFU directors in a farming magazine was one of the union’s top area secretary. Got it in one – a woman. As was last year’s winner. They know their place.

“Secretary” for an NFU area is one of those slightly misleading terms as the job is one of the keys to the union’s success, involving leadership and organisational skills as well as extensive insurance business. A good area secretary can make a massive difference and not all are women. But decision-making at union top level remains, apparently, a male bastion. I should be used to it by now, but it always surprises that when so many skilled, intelligent women are the driving forces behind farm businesses and diversification, none of them make it to NFU top level. And few to local or area level. That failure can’t all be latent sexism among farmers, surely? Perhaps women have got better things to do?

Whatever the reasons, all-male it is, including, of course, new president Allan Bowie, Fife, and vice-presidents Rob Livesy, who farms near Melrose, and Andrew McCornick, Dumfriesshire. Standing down after four years was Nigel Miller, Stow. The first NFU president to be a qualified vet, Mr Miller moves straight into a new role as chairman of Livestock Scotland, an organisation and initiative trying to improve animal health.

I guess that will be with a sense of relief. His last two years in office coincided with some of the most mind-numbing, bum-numbing complex and difficult negotiations about Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) that any of us can remember. Mr Miller mastered those complexities thoroughly and used his knowledge during countless arguments at every government level in the union’s attempts to get the best deal possible for farmers. That the final result, as far as anyone can tell, was disappointing was not his fault. It won’t be any easier over the next two years for Mr Bowie and his vice-presidents. Good luck.

Recent income figures show what a volatile business farming it is. In 2013 farm incomes rose 29 per cent. Last year they slumped 18 per cent. Little consolation to note that the 2014 total income from farming in Scotland, at £688million, was “about average” for the past decade after inflation is taken into account.

The danger of averages is shown by the fact that income from cattle held steady year on year, while income from pigs and sheep was up. Costs, mainly feed, were down. But potato income slumped by more than £100million and subsidies dropped £70million because of falling exchange rates.