“Being women makes us better equipped to adapt to change”

Kate Hoare, winner of the Women in Ag Awards 2023, Trenance Dairy, Tideford (Cornwall, UK)

 

In her mid-thirties, Kate Hoare decided to go for a career as a full-time dairy farmer. A farmer’s daughter, her choice to take over her dad’s milk contract and start her own farm with husband Kevin and their three children was definitely not what anyone expected. Today, Kate is running her own circular dairy operation in a sleepy Cornish village. Her innovative approach and the way she is setting an example for the younger generations of women in agriculture has earned her the Women in Ag Award in the category “Farmer” at Agritechnica in November, where we had the pleasure of meeting her and her family.

Six years ago, Kate and her husband started the process for a farm tenancy. The initial idea was to give Kate the opportunity to stay on the farm and take care of the couple’s three children while Kevin worked out of the house.  “Dairy farming sucked me in” (laughs). Today, Kate and Kevin are the team behind Trenance Dairy.

Land availability

“It is very difficult to get land in the UK”, Kate explains. “We knew we wanted to build our own farm, and here that means you need to get a tenancy. Land is hard to come by, especially since established farmers are always looking to get more land around their farms to expand their operation, so for us to farm a tenancy was our only otion as land prices are steep. We started the selection process six years ago and are now renting 134 acres from Cornwall county farms and another 80 acres from private land owners. I bought my dad’s cows and took over his milk contract with Arla (a well-known northern European farmer-owned mil cooperation, red.). That was not quite what he expected, it’s usually the son who takes over the farm, but my brother is not interested in milking. He is still taking over the parental farm but will focus on machinery and arable farming, while I do my own thing.”

The farm started small, with a herd of twenty-eight cows. Kate and Kevin had to be smart about how to start things up since they didn’t have a lot of capital to invest, and so they bought pregnant cows to start up the herd. “Today, we have just over one hundred cows and are rearing our own replacement heifers. The aim is to go to one hundred and fifty: that’s our magic number.”

A sustainable approach

“With our current model, we are producing 7500 litres and 550kg of solids on a farmer-owner Arla contract, supplying milk to supermarkets. We get paid on the fat and protein levels of our milk, so it’s quality over quantity. The milk is used for lots of different products”, Kate says, stressing that she focuses on trying to use everything she produces. That’s why she is determined to reduce antibiotics use on the farm. “Antibiotics are still a problem within dairy. They are still used a lot on farms, as an alternative option is not that easy to find!

Kate’s farm also boasts a New Holland T6 methane tractor which allows her to put the manure to good use and, thus, make the farm circular. A purely practical solution at first, as she explains: “we had a problem with our slurry and were desperately in need of help. My husband told me we should just build a slurry lagoon and spread it on the land, like everyone else. It’s just how we’re used to do it… But then a local cornsih company, Bennaman, came with the idea to install a digester and use the energy produced by our manure to power the new T6. That was a no-brainer for us, of course!”

The slurry from the one hundred milking cows is scraped into a pit and pumped into a covered slurry lagoon equipped with methane capturing technology. There, methane is captured and hydrogen sulphide is extracted. What Kate is left with is a useable product that serves as fuel for the farm’s tractor. “We had the gas, New Holland had the model and so our farm became the testing field for this new tractor, which was still in the prototype phase. The waste left behind after the process is a very watery form of digestate which we are analysing every month, monitoring how and where and quantities of application by using a harvest lab kit attached to the tractor and trailing shoe. This is helping us reduce the need for brought in artificial fertiliser! Now I can spread the manure if I want, but I don’t have to”, Kate, who is involved in farm net zero, which helps draw up a yearly carbon footprint and monitors carbon capture and sequestration, soil health and ph., says.

“The digestate has given us a much better grass re growth resulting in better milk yields in the cows! Combined with better grass management, hedgerow management and stocking and rotation rates soil fertility has massively improved and the bio diversity on the farm has increased! We have a wealth of bats, beetles, butterflies, bees and birds.”

“All this has opened our eyes to the world of circular farming and the real need to produce milk as sustainability as possible”, Kate reflects. “I think we already knew there was a need to prove we were sustainable but the whole process has really showed us what’s possible.”

In a world of increasing regulations, adding a lot of administration and extra stress to a farmer’s job, Kate sees some good for the future. “I know there is a whole raft of regulations with regards to sustainability, but when I think of the future of dairy it makes sense. Being sustainable encompasses good farming practice where you manage your calving intervals, your age at first calving, stocking rates and densities, budgeting and milk flow predictions,… the list is almost endless! We have a long way too go and I’m never too proud to ask for help along the way. I think that is definitely more because I’m a woman and I’m quite an inquisitive person.”

“All aspects of agriculture are massively challenging but if you have fire in your belly your will overcome these challenges.”

Challenges

Farming comes with many challenges, especially in this modern world of climate change and growing population. That is something Kate is keenly aware of. “Breeding my heifers, maintaining milk yields, making our finance repayments, keeping up with paperwork, growing the farm all while seeing my children grow up and embracing farming life… it’s hard but also incredible! It wasn’t my children’s choice to farm, nor my husband’s if I’m being honest. I have dragged them all along for the ride!”

As a farmer, it is difficult to determine where work stops and life begins, the two being intricately intertwined. “My parents always tell me that this is the busiest time of our lives: growing the farm and the children. They are so right and I am trying to embrace all aspects of it! As for a work/life balance, I’m not sure I mastered that. My work is the farm, my life are my children and my husband but the edges are very blurred since I love my work and my family is very involved in it. I’m definitely not a housewife, we very often have a pony in the kitchen or a chicken on the table… resulting in cake mixture all over the kitchen. Very often my kids go to bed fed and watered, but not clean per se. Seeing the rosy glow on their faces and the conversations they can strike up with strangers who come to the farm makes me so proud and lets me know we are doing alright. It’s not always about hitting targets within school walls, life is a tough place to be and whether my children choose farming or not, one day they will look back on their childhood and see that it had stood them in good stead to become balanced individuals!”

Unfortunately, Kate says, farming is not always a very inclusive industry. One the one hand, there’s prejudice from outside the industry towards farmers in general, but there’s also the fact that a woman still has to work harder to prove her worth in our trade. “I think farmers are very aware of which moves can have a negative impact on public perception, usually out of lack of knowledge about what we do. But perhaps we are partly to blame for that lack of knowledge. If people, male or female, find a way to prove their resilience and determination to the world, suddenly agriculture can look completely different to outsiders. To me, agriculture has a great future. There are amazing technology advances coming and with this huge change will come a wealth of opportunities. And if anything, being women makes us better equipped to adapt to change and adapt to the new challenges coming our way.”

Role model

When we ask Kate if she notices prejudice towards her as a woman in agriculture, she doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, it’s huge!” She recalls not having many woman farmer role models as a young girl growing up in a predominantly male industry. “When I went to market with my dad, it was all men. I was also told by my dad to get a nice office job since farming is a ‘hard job’. Well I tried several desk jobs, but it’s just not for me. While it is true that farming is really hard, even though choosing dairy is more ‘acceptable’ for a woman because there are several elements such as calf rearing which are acceptable for a female, I wish I had a role model as a girl.”

“A lot has changed now but you see that some things are hard to get rid of. For example, I invited a local Women in Dairy group to come over to the farm one day in order to dissect a calf so that we could all learn about calf anatomy and health, which is a real world away from where it used to be about which was jam making and accounts!

Even when Kate goes to market, a job she does alone, often times accompanied by her children, she feels the weight of prejudice. “I’m treated as if I didn’t know what I was doing each time I want to pull the trailer in. Men will ask me if I need help to reverse and unload! It makes me feel like people don’t think I’m capable and I always have to prove my worth as a woman. There is almost this expectancy for us to fail as women, because we are not supposed to be unloading the trailer. We’re supposed to stay home and take care of the children, but after a few trips they realised it was fine and I was capable of juggling the trailer, the calves and the unloading!

Even when a woman is represented in advertisement, it’s almost never a normal looking farmer. You never see rolls when she is sitting, you don’t see someone who looks like me: it’s always a petite, pretty, young, skinny, stereotypical woman.”

These stereotypes might frustrate Kate, but she is putting in the work to make sure the younger generations have (more realistic) role models. Very involved in her industry, she makes sure women are represented as much as possible: as vice chair for Arla in her local district; part of the national women in dairy group; through her work with children’s primary schools, making sure to include children in the farm and, just recently, through her election into the British cattle breeders group as a committee member.

Women in Ag Award winner

Luckily, Kate fiercely believes in herself and is setting an example for all girls and young women who want to start a career in agriculture. She was rewarded for this by receiving the Women in Ag Award at Agritechnica in November, proving she’s not the only one believing in herself: it was New Holland who entered her nomination for the award. “Alice (Brignani, red.) rang me in April to tell me there was an award, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it but she asked if she could fill in my profile and I said yes. Then I didn’t hear anything from it for a few months and had forgotten all about it, until half term.”

“I remember I was out hunting with my daughter and my phone rang: it was Alice to tell me I won! I would’ve never believed I had a chance at winning because we are so small, we are at the bottom of Cornwall, I didn’t think what I did was that significant but it is mind blowing that I got picked! My farm is like my fourth child, it’s always a big part of me and I didn’t look at what I’m doing as doing anything different.”

When asked if she has a message for young women in the industry, Kate’s advice is not to let anyone discourage you. “Believe in yourself and go kick ass! Farming is very hard, but if you really want to do it and put in the work, you shouldn’t let anyone stop you.”

“As women, we put huge pressure on ourselves every day to be a better wife, a better mum, a better person and it is a challenge each day to swing your legs out of bed, get out and face the world. But I have found that pressure or challenge has moulded me into a determined, self motivated woman – some might argue too strong and determined (laughs). Don’t get me wrong, I find it a huge struggle some days to juggle children and the farm and I very often neglect my own needs to make sure they are happy, but I love it. All of it.”


Katie Hoare is a forty year old dairy farmer and mother of three children (13,12 and 8) from Cornwall, UK. She and her husband run the tenancy dairy farm Trenance Dairy in the village of Tideford, south east Cornwall. The 214 acres farm houses a herd of one hundred Friesian cross cows and heifers, reared by Kate herself. The family also have five dogs, chickens and eight horses and ponies, making sure life is never dull.

 

This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2023-004. Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read the magazine. 

 

 

 

 

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