‘Passion and hard work’ helps to overcome challenges
Working in agriculture has its challenges, but after 27 years in the industry, Cornish farmer Gayle Bersey says she wouldn’t want to do anything else. We spoke to Gayle to find out more about her varied career.
“I love everything about farming,” says Gayle Bersey, beef and sheep farmer from Looe, Cornwall. “I love being outside in all weathers and I like the difference you can make. I couldn’t see me doing anything else.”
Gayle started farming in her own right aged just 19 following her parents’ decision to retire early due to her father’s ill health. Taking on the full 400-acre tenant farm wasn’t viable for Gayle, but she was able to keep 28 acres when the family gave notice on the rest of their rented land.
It enabled Gayle to keep eight Aberdeen Angus females from the herd founded by her parents in the 1960s. Then some years later she decided to start a flock of Hampshire Down sheep, following in her grandfather’s footsteps with the breed.
“At that point my daughter was 10 and the cattle were too big for her to handle so by having sheep it was a way for her to be involved.” Over the years Gayle has held other roles alongside the farm. She currently milks cows on a neighbouring farm and works for a local egg producer. And if that wasn’t enough, she is also secretary of the Hampshire Down Breeders Association, works as an auctioneer’s clerk at two local livestock markets and is a cattle judge. “Variety is definitely the spice of life,” Gayle says.
A welcome return to shows
Previously Gayle worked on the Aberdeen Angus Society’s Youth Development Programme which involved developing opportunities for young people, a role she particularly enjoyed.
Gayle is looking forward to returning to the show ring this year and has been invited to judge the Young Handler classes at the Balmoral Show in September. One of her last engagements before Covid-related show cancellations was judging the Aberdeen Angus breed club herd competition in Northern Ireland, a particular highlight of her judging experience.
Another highlight of Gayle’s career so far was when her homebred bull Lyhner Valley Elveiseliha was placed third in his class at Stirling Bull Sales. “My farm is run on a very low input system. I don’t house my cattle much or push them on, so to do well against herds run under very different systems was quite a big thing for me.”
Like many involved in showing she has missed it hugely during the pandemic. “Showing is a very social thing and as well as giving you the opportunity of seeing your cattle and sheep alongside others, it’s also useful to promote what you do.”
Women do face additional challenges in the farming industry but nothing that can’t be overcome with ‘passion and hard work’ she says.
“Whether male or female, you need to be confident in your ability so others have confidence in you. I’m reasonably strong but will never have the same strength as a man, so I’ve had to think of smart ways to solve problems.”
More women in agriculture and more opportunities
While there have always been many women involved in family farming businesses, Gayle recognises there are more new entrants now. “Women play a massive role in many farming businesses, but 20 years ago there were very few who went off to work for someone else.
“Now I am seeing far more young women getting into farming and people are giving them opportunities.”
Many of the challenges for women entering the industry are the same for men, she says. “It’s also hard for people from a town or city background to become involved, but whatever the challenges I believe if you put in the hard work you will succeed.”
“Farming is massively hard work with huge ups and huge downs. You need to be passionate about it.”
The squeeze on incomes continues to test all farmers too. “I probably work more hours now but make the same amount of money as I did when I started 27 years ago.
“Lamb and beef prices have increased in the last 18 months, and it is about time we got a more realistic price. But with input costs continuing to increase it hasn’t translated to a huge amount of extra income.”
Newer challenges include tackling public perception. “There are massive misconceptions of farmers and farming, and we need to go the extra mile to challenge them.”
Plenty of support for getting into farming
Gayle advises anyone looking to join the industry to find organisations that can help. Young Farmers clubs and breed societies provide opportunities to gain skills and confidence while also meeting new people with similar interests.
As well as the educational benefits of going to agricultural college it also offers great opportunities to network, she adds. “I didn’t go to college but was keen my daughter went as it’s a great way to build up a good network.”
Gayle was named ‘Best Woman in Farming’ in the Cornish Farm Business Awards 2018 and while she was proud of that achievement she would love to be recognised alongside male farmers. “It is really nice to be recognised for things I have done, but I’d rather it was a best beef farmer award. I don’t like to think I am any different to my neighbours because I’m a woman and don’t want to be treated differently.”
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