LADS no Lasses

BY NOEL YAXLEY

I have a confession to make. Although I am writing this for a rural affairs magazine, I personally know very little about farming. My own experience of farming extends to a combine harvester ride with a man called Donny when I was five on holiday on the North Norfolk coast. For a few hours on a hot Autumn day I got to pretend I was harvesting wheat. 

So you must forgive me when I say that before today I knew nothing of The Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society. Apparently it is a 94 year-old men-only society where once a month farmers can go to discuss everything from pesticides to ploughs. Yet the group, amusingly known as LADS, has now become embroiled in controversy. It would appear that not even a wholesome rustic activity like farming can escape the clutches of the culture war. Something I know a bit more about.

When Lisa Edwards became aware of the groups single-sex policy, she claimed it was  “discriminatory” — arguing that female farmers were being denied valuable opportunities to socialise. So when she put forth a proposal to rewrite the LADS rules allowing women to either become full members or attend as guests, she was slightly perturbed when she was roundly defeated. Members voted to block her amendment by a resounding 90 percent. 

Edwards, who farms 900 acres of cereal crops and potatoes in Merseyside believes the rules are “outdated.” Her rationale being that the group — founded in 1928 — is out of touch with our more progressive 21st century values. For Edwards, times have changed. People, she says “shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their sex.”

On this I actually agree with her. But this is a different case. Call me old fashioned — or to use the vernacular of Edwards, outdated — but some spaces must be segregated by sex. When it comes to safety, women need single-sex spaces, although the trans-lobby seem hellbent on erasing this important distinction. A single-sex environment allows either sex to relax and properly open up. In this case men. Men speak differently when they are around other men. By allowing wives and girlfriends you fundamentally alter the group dynamic. To put it bluntly, there are some things men do not feel comfortable discussing around women. And farmers have a lot to get off their mind.

The life of a farmer is tough. Especially for male farmers. In the U.K, men account for 97 percent of all workplace fatalities. According to an analysis by GoCompare, farming is the second most dangerous profession in the U.K – with 16.4% of all workplace fatalities. It is also an industry dominated by men – across the U.K roughly 81 percent of farmers are male. To drive matters home, the North West is the riskiest region. The area in which this particularly trivial sexism scandal is taking place.

If the job doesn’t kill you, you may still collapse, but this time under the weight of debt. Often renting expensive equipment, farmers take on a significant amount of financial risk. It is work and produce or risk going under. Even then you still need to make a profit. The national chains know this and frequently exploit farmers. Using vast economies of scale, supermarkets can offer products like milk at vastly reduced prices. Sold below cost and known as loss leader pricing, supermarkets can effectively crush a farmers profit. When you factor in rising inflation is it any wonder that the industry is facing a potential mental health crisis?  

A recent study by The Farm Safety Foundation found 88 percent of farmers under the age of forty cite poor mental health as the most serious problem facing farmers today. So perhaps a place where men can go to discuss their problems, free from self-censorship is a good thing. As one member, Olly Harrison put it: “You can go to those meetings and not feel lonely [if you’re single].” “Conversations”, according to the 41 year old cereal farmer from Merseyside “are different between men and women…to take away a space to chat is wrong.” 

LADS argue that all-male spaces play an important role as male farmers need a safe space to discuss issues surrounding mental health. In an industry where loneliness, financial insecurity and stress can exacerbate depression, I can’t find fault with this. This is a world away from the type of safe space inhabited by entitled millennials scared of naughty words. The one advocated by the LADS could potentially save a life. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 133 people involved in UK farming took their own lives in 2019-2020. 

May I make a suggestion to Edwards. In the world of agriculture, there are plenty of opportunities for you to mix and network with both sexes. Within your area, why don’t you visit a farmers market?  I’ve heard Lark Lane in Liverpool is a good one. And like LADS, that’s monthly. Or perhaps at the annual Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show? Better still, why don’t you set up your own group with your own rules? That way you can meet whoever you like.

Or if they still do them, how about attending a good old fashioned barn dance? Or am I just outdated?

Noel Yaxley is a writer based in Nelson’s county. After graduating in politics, he turned his attention to writing. Noel is primarily interested in covering issues around free speech and the latest lunacy in the culture wars. He writes regularly for The Critic magazine and contributes to a number of other outlets such as Reaction and Areo magazine.