Irish agriculture needs a “culture change”, according to a new umbrella group for women in farming.

It comes amid shock findings that less than 4% of TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes) payments went to female farmers.

The Women in Agriculture Stakeholders Group (WASG) had its first meeting this week and is made up of representatives from several farm organisations, including:

  • The Irish Farmers’ Association;
  • Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA);
  • Irish Cattle and Sheep Association (ICSA);
  • Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA);
  • Macra na Feirme;
  • Irish Organic Association (IOA);
  • South East Women in Farming; and
  • West Women in Farming.

The group is urging Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to take action on its common agricultural policy (CAP) submission to “lead the charge” on achieving gender balance within Irish agriculture.

It calls for:

  • The Department of Agriculture (DAFM) to “lead the charge” in addressing gender balance and set a target of going from the current 12% of farmers being female to 25% by 2030;
  • A 60% TAMS grant for all female farmers and joint partnerships with a named female partner, in response to figures secured by the group through an Freedom of Information (FOI) request showing less than 4% of Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) payments were made to women;
  • Female-only KT groups and top-ups for groups with at least three female members;
  • A €5,000/year Partnership Tax Credit – to work along similar lines to the current Succession Tax Credit except where a named female partner is added to the farm;
  • DAFM to commit to plan and fund a National Women in Agriculture Dialogue as set out under Food Vision 2030.

‘The last obstacle is mindset’

Vanessa Kiely O’Connor of the ICMSA (pictured top) highlighted the need to alter the traditional mindset of farmers.

“The physical obstacles that prevented women from farming are a thing of the past, modern machinery and technology have created an opportunity for all genders to farm.

“The last obstacle is to purge the mindset that it’s a male-oriented career,” O’Connor said.

She also pointed out that if farmers were concerned about a woman inheriting a farm and losing the “family name” if she married, that it was 2021 and there should be no issue with women keeping their maiden names.

Macra na Feirme representative Louise Crowley also took a strong position on the subject.

“Macra na Feirme strive to better understand and combat the gender imbalances currently found in the agriculture industry,” Crowley said.

“Almost every farm in Ireland has a woman involved in some way, shape or form.

“These women must first be recognised, and this recognition will be one of the steps to encouraging more women and especially young women into a career in farming,” she said.

Mona O’Donoghue-Concannon of the ICSA pointed out that females need to be encouraged to take leadership roles across the industry.

“ICSA is always thriving for inclusion of women in farm policy decision making and encouraging leadership skills development in farm organisations by encouraging and mentoring the skilled people already involved in the industry on a daily basis,” she said.

“Through CAP and the new group, greater heights will be reached.”

One woman who has already got to the top of her field, Irish Organic Association (IOA) chief executive Gillian Westbrook, said she believed further inclusion of women would have benefits for businesses.

“Approximately 25% of [the IOA’s] licenced organic operators are women, and this has been hugely positive for the development and growth of the sector in recent years,” she said.

“Agriculture faces challenges on so many levels and we need to ensure that women are engaging in policy dialogue across all platforms, to enhance and maintain strong rural communities.

“Creating a strong agricultural sector necessitates that inclusion, diversity and strong leadership are displayed at all levels, and I look forward to working in this context under the next CAP Strategic Plan.”