A dairy farmer from Co. Westmeath has become the newest member of the Lakeland Dairies board.

Aisling Neville, who holds a first-class honours degree in agricultural science, was appointed to the role recently, following a keenly contested election.

The 27-year-old is also the first woman to sit on the board of the co-op.

Lakeland Dairies

Aisling Neville grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Co. Offaly but now runs a 150-cow dairy herd in Moate, Co. Westmeath, a role she took on when she was 22-years-old.

“I knew I was going to stay in the dairy sector, because I have always loved dairy cows, breeding them, showing them and milking them.

“So, leasing my own place was the right thing to do, even if I was only 22.

“And once I had the farm up and running well, I felt I was in a position to do something else within the sector. So, when this board position came up, I went for it,” she said.

The farmer said her positive experience on the Lakeland regional committee encouraged her to go further in the organisation.

“I didn’t see too many young people or women involved at board level. I believe we need both younger and older members on a board to get a balanced opinion.

“I have a strong background in farming, the science behind it, as well as the financial and business end of it. You need to have good people around a table to drive a business forward and make good decisions. So why not me?” Aisling said.

Neville, who will now sit on the board for a five-year term, has pledged to represent all Lakeland suppliers at board level.

“My number one concern will always be the farmers who supply the co-op and maximising the milk price for them.

“I’m here to represent farmers, I will listen to their concerns and support them in any way I can. I want to help all farmers understand how their co-op works and is there to help them.

“This understanding would in turn get more Lakeland Dairies farmers involved in regional committees,” she said.

Gender balance

Neville views her election as a sign of positive movement on gender balance in the dairy sector.

“I was voted in by my local farmers who are mainly men. That says to me that there is no need for gender quotas in agricultural organisations.

“What there is a need for is encouragement for young girls and women to get involved in farm organisations.

“I don’t want to be segregated as a woman in farming, I want us to play by the same rules and intensity as male farmers, because we are well able, and I think I have proven that,” she said.

Lakeland Dairies shareholders recently backed new rules aimed at future proofing the co-op.

At a Special General Meeting (SGM) held in September, a motion was carried by 98% where the shareholders voted to support the promotion of diverse membership and governance participation.

Lakeland also launched a targeted campaign to encourage more women and other family members to become involved as shareholders in the co-op.

Lakeland Dairies chair, Niall Matthews said he is delighted to see a young farmer like Aisling interested in the structure of the co-op.

“The cooperative movement is the backbone and pillar of so many rural communities.

“This is a crucially important time for our great sector, so it is important to have as many unique views and perspectives around the board table,” he said.