THE early spring snow was falling, it was the height of her first lambing season and Joyce Campbell had just lost her father in the most tragic circumstances. 

Exhausted, emotionally drained and overwhelmed, she sat down behind the drystane dyke on the 5,500-acre hill farm she had just inherited, and let the tears fall. 

“I felt I was in over my head, I was crying and I was exhausted,” she recalls. “I was probably quite naïve, and it was so tough. But you have to just shake yourself down and get on with it.”

READ MORE: Battle of Arras: A final memorial to dead Scots of Arras

It’s now 20 years since her father’s sudden death and that first lambing season. Having inherited the family farm on Sutherland’s north coast in the most turbulent of situations, Joyce is no longer phased by any hurdles or challenges that it might throw her way. 

“I was probably quite naïve at the start,” she admits. “I didn’t think there was support to help me deal with running the farm. I had to sink or swim, it was a steep learning curve. And while it’s still not easy, I love it.”

Joyce, 49, is among a relatively rare breed of Scots women working in agriculture, either as farmers out in all weathers driving tractors, fixing fences and tending to pregnant ewes and cows as the snow falls and the wind howls, or in related roles that ensure farms operate efficiently and effectively, from veterinary jobs to doing the books. 

The role of the female farmer and agricultural worker is under the spotlight at the Royal Highland Show this weekend – the final one before the Women in Agriculture Taskforce publishes a major report into the sector later this year. 

Launched by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2017 with a view to tackling inequality and boosting women’s contribution to the sector, it is expected to call for a change in mindset towards female farmers along with additional positive and practical support to help boost opportunities and encourage more women to consider farm-related careers.

The taskforce is also likely to reveal moves to encourage agricultural businesses and organisations to improve gender equality.

Its launch coincided with Scottish Government figures that revealed that while one in three farm operators are women, senior positions and roles on influential agricultural organisations are dominated by men. 

To mark the countdown to the taskforce report, Royal Bank of Scotland, which is involved in the Women in Agriculture Scotland Group, has launched an equality campaign, #ThisIsFarming, which it says will raise awareness of the challenges faced by women in agriculture. 

Roddy McLean, head of agriculture at Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “Women are vastly under-represented in the agricultural sector, but we hope that by utilising our dedicated women in business and agriculture resources, we can contribute towards encouraging more women into farming, as well as helping those already within the industry to advance their roles.”

However, few might face quite the same challenge as Joyce, who was just 20 when she inherited remote Armadale Farm, 30 miles from Thurso and now passed by countless visitors on the busy tourist trail, the North Coast 500. 

Today she looks after the flock of around 830 pure-bred North Country Cheviot Hill ewes, along with tups, a small herd of cows, a flock of free-range hens, plus holiday cottages. 

Not surprisingly her hackles rise when salespeople swing by and ask her if they can speak to the “boss”.

READ MORE: Women's Tour of Scotland bike race backed by Gail Porter

“I say the boss isn’t around right now and they should come back tomorrow,” she admits. “Then, when they appear the next day, I tell them I’m the boss – hopefully it’s a lesson learned for them.”

Joyce, co-chair along with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce, believes there is an increasing number of women taking on farm roles but deep prejudices and traditions hinder their ability to contribute on the scale they would like. 

“There are a lot of hands-on women in agriculture that are out there wearing the wellies, and a lot who are behind the scenes,” she says. “A lot might not identify themselves or describe themselves as farmers. Some might be helping to support the sector in the supply chain, veterinary roles, research and developing. They might be doing the paperwork, but their contribution is invaluable.

“It’s really important to get women to say with pride that they are women working in agriculture.”

Earlier this year, the taskforce highlighted concerns that too many women are confined to supporting roles in agriculture, signifying a missed opportunity at a time when diversification is vital. It also suggested a lack of confidence in challenging traditions and stereotypes was holding women back. 

In some cases, however, age-old family traditions may be the toughest barrier to break down.

With an older brother expected to inherit her parents’ farm in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, Kim Taylor, 30, says she put aside her own hopes of a farming future to focus on training as an architect.

She remains engaged with the farming community in her role as National Chair at the Scottish Association of Young Farmers, but accepts she is unlikely to run the family farm.

“Yes, working on a farm is dirty and hard work and physical, but there are plenty of machines out there that can help, so that side of farm work shouldn’t put women off,” she adds. 

“There’s a certain perception among men about what women can do in agriculture. There are still old-fashioned views out there,” she says. 

“Women just have to get out there and show they can do it.”