‘It’s not a question of gender, but your ability to farm’
Women in agriculture are being given a more equal platform compared to 30 or 40 years ago, says Devon farmer and co-founder of Ladies in Beef, Jilly Greed. We spoke to her about her incredible career juggling farming, family and much more.
Jilly Greed certainly knows how to multi-task. As well as running her family farm in partnership with her husband and son, she also built a successful marketing and PR company, co-founded Ladies in Beef and successfully managed a host of other commitments.
Jilly took over management of the farm near Exeter some 25 years ago. “I came to farming by default. I always wanted to farm but the automatic progression was for my brother to take over if he wanted to, but he didn’t. When my father became seriously ill my husband, Edwin, and I stepped in, and it all started from there.”
Since then, the business has changed considerably and there is more change on the horizon, explains Jilly. Their son George joined them in the business nine years ago after graduating in agriculture with business management from the University of Reading. For the past six years, they have implemented a regenerative system with minimum tillage and a mob grazing system introduced for the family’s suckler beef herd.
“We are a 600-acre family farm and had already diversified quite a lot before George joined the business. George felt the farm had to be more sustainable and needed to make margin by reducing our inputs as well as our carbon footprint.”
The natural progression now is to convert to organic production, says Jilly. “The suckler herd is in regenerative organic conversion and the calves born this year will be officially organic. The arable side really starts converting this year. It’s more challenging, but we are up for that.”
Stewardship schemes and sustainable growth
The family also have a mid-tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement supporting their conservation efforts. This includes extensive herbal leys, pollen and nectar flower mixes, winter bird food margins and new habitats for birds, small mammals and insects.
“We have seen the results of our regenerative system and mob grazing in soil health and species recovery. Organic conversion will take that further.
“I’ve had to change my previous view that you have to manage everything closely. I always thought that was how it should be, but there is another way through the regenerative system. You can be efficient, productive and sustainable.”
The family has also recently converted some Victorian courtyard buildings into professional offices. Insured by Cornish Mutual, the offices range from 300 to 950 square feet and have all now been let.
“It’s been more successful than we thought and all manner of businesses, particularly creative tenants, have come. They appreciate the green space.”
Career variety and campaigning
But the family farm is just one string to Jilly’s bow. Her company One Voice was recently sold through a management buyout in its 30th year, employing an all-female team of talented marketing and PR professionals.
Another highlight of her career was becoming the first female board director of Cornish Mutual, a role she held for nearly 10 years. Being a co-founder of Ladies in Beef, which spearheaded the Great British Beef Week initiative, is also a source of great pride. “Championing Great British Beef Week is really important for me in terms of communicating the benefits of Red Tractor Assured British beef to consumers.”
Now in its eleventh year, the Ladies in Beef team had planned an extensive campaign for 2021 but had to pare it back to digital and online promotions only.
“We took the theme of environmental sustainability. I wasn’t sure if it would resonate with consumers, but it was absolutely brilliant. We had more retailer support, more consumer support and the media loved it.
“Beef production in the UK has under half the global emissions compared to other parts of the world and a target of being net zero by 2040. Those messages are resonating with consumers.”
Since moving away from her marketing company, Jilly says she has more time. “I’m not so busy and taking more of a back seat. It’s a quieter life now which I’m enjoying.” However, she maintains her commitment to campaigning and is putting her weight behind an awareness campaign about suckler beef production.
“It’s a new campaign to raise awareness about suckler beef being a pasture-based system where calves are reared on mother’s milk and grass and using dedicated British beef breeds. British suckler beef is very much undersold at the moment and should receive differentiation and a premium.”
"It's about your ability to farm"
Throughout her career, Jilly says she has rarely come up against bigotry or negative views about women in farming.
“I think attitudes have progressed and it’s not a question of whether you are a man or a woman, but it’s about your ability to farm and the sustainability of your business.
“It is often about confidence for women, but they can do it. Sometimes the person holding you back is yourself.”
Women have always had a place in livestock farming, often excelling in nurturing roles and where strong communication skills are required, says Jilly.
“Consumers have really backed British farming and are keen to know more about where their food comes from. Women’s communication skills are really valuable in terms of getting our message across.
“Over 80% of British consumers says they want to buy home produced food and we are going to really need that loyalty as global trade deals are negotiated.
“It will have a huge impact, particularly on vulnerable sectors like suckler beef. We need to be out there telling our story, particularly in this region where we produce fantastic grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy.”
*Image credit: Kelvin Murray/Getty Images
Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.Future Farming Programme