Tara Barry is farm secretary to a large contracting business and an organic dairy farm based in the Cotswolds with a total area of more than 1,400 hectares (3,460 acres) of arable land and an additional 1,800 ha (4,445 acres) of grassland.
Tara looks after all the administration for the farms, including animal movements, grain sales, email and diary management and preparation for farm assurance. Prior to this, Tara studied Equine Science and Business at the Royal Agricultural College, worked in marketing for three years. She then spent two years working for an international sporting agent.
What’s your current role?:
How has continuing professional development (CPD)/training made a positive impact on you?
I joined IAgSA (Institute of Agricultural Secretaries & Administrators) in early 2020 and managed to complete the first module in person before lockdown. I completed two further modules virtually before this job opportunity arose which gave me the confidence to get stuck in.
Everything else I have learned on the job from webinars, online manuals or from being brave enough to ask the ‘stupid’ questions to people much smarter than I am.
What led you to pursue a career in this industry?
I’ve always had an interest in the food and farming sector, particularly supply chains and food providence. I never saw practical farming as an option but knew there would be a place for my passion alongside a farming business.
When the previous farm secretary left the role I’m now in, I saw an opportunity to learn from a hugely diverse business that would give me exposure to lots of different farms and different farming practices.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
No two days are the same and I love that I’ve found a way to lend my skill set to support the business in a unique way. Years spent in other careers have taught me problem solving and organisational skills which the business did not have before, so being able to implement new protocols and see positive change is hugely rewarding.
What skills do you think are important for success in this industry?
Humility – if you can be brave enough to ask a question others will see as ‘stupid’, you will at least gain the knowledge to know for next time.
Can you share a project or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
Getting thorough the first year working on the farm – Red Tractor, Soil Association and TASCC haulage audits require significant amounts of work for the number of farms we look after, so getting through those was a huge relief.
How do you stay up to date on industry trends and innovations?
Farmers Weekly, Twitter and conversations with peers are invaluable.
What do you see as the future of the industry?
In order to survive, agriculture has to find a way to connect with the public. Because of the insular nature of this line of work, our social circle rarely extends beyond other farmers so while it’s all very well sharing farming content and stories in our own circle, there is an element of ‘preaching to the choir’.
We have to press on the supermarkets, the government, assurance bodies and unions to connect the public with the farming community and tell our stories, otherwise, what’s the point in them representing us?
If you could only listen to one song while working, what would it be?
I have definitely been guilty of blasting the country tunes while hyper-fixating on spreadsheets for hours. Give me some Dolly Parton and I’m happy.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Being taken seriously as a woman in this industry is still a regular hurdle. I’ve answered the phone at work to be asked ‘Is your dad or husband around?’ and I regularly get overlooked by delivery drivers looking for ‘the farmer’.
Having women regularly on farm often highlights the lack of basic hygiene facilities and this is an area agriculture has huge room for improvement in – toilet paper and bins in workplace toilets should not be a luxury!
If you could have any superpower to help with your job, what would it be?
Read the cows’ minds – and if they could all remember their eartag numbers as well that would be great.
If you could switch jobs with anyone in the industry for a day, who would it be and why?
Zoe Colville (@thechiefshepherdess) for me epitomises the modern farmer – she does not compromise on her own beliefs or feel the need to fit a ‘traditional farmer’ stereotype.
Also, her hair is great. I cannot wait to read her book next month.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in agriculture/horticulture?
Do not decide what you should or should not do when you ‘grow up’ solely based on where you come from, who your parents are or what your school thinks. If you find a passion for this industry, there will be a place for you in it; it probably just won’t be shown to you when you pick your GCSE options.