“The role of women in Irish agriculture is understated due to the predominance of male farm owners and the preference to transfer farmland to a son or other male relative.”

This is according to a National Rural Network (NRN) report, which is being published this week.

Its authors Lily Mulhall and Dr Pat Bogue undertook the research earlier this year to provide a greater understanding of women’s role in agriculture in context of the next Rural Development Plan.

“There was a perception that the situation regarding women may have been improving, however recent statistics highlight that any changes that occurred have been small and that the participation of women in the sector, at ownership level in particular is low,” they outlined.

“Previous research has identified the many ways in which women’s farm work is essential to the farm business and attempts have been made to bring women out of the shadows of the family farm to illustrate unequal gender relations within farm families.”

Access to land was perceived as the main barrier to women entering farming. The report noted that traditional cultural beliefs also impact negatively on land transfer to women.

The authors cited evidence from the recently published ‘Land Mobility and Succession in Ireland’ commissioned by Macra na Feirme and supported by Department of Agricultural, the Irish Farmers Association and the Agricultural Trust, which  indicated that only 11 per cent of those identified as farming successors to farmers aged over 50 years were female.

Another barrier identified by the researchers emanates from entrenched and widely held cultural beliefs that farming is not a suitable career for a woman.

“Women are not encouraged to become farmers by either men or women and therefore don’t aspire to be farmers,” one participant in the study noted.

Financial barriers were also seen as the most critical issue facing women in agriculture and in many cases financial consideration was the overriding factor in career choices made by women and in parental decisions to hold on to the farm as a necessary source of income.

The authors are now encouraging farm women to highlight the strength or their identity and value to change perceptions.

“Farm women are a very diverse group including: full‐time farmers; partners in farms; assisting in family farms; involved in specific roles, for example administration/accounts; supporting other family members involved in farming; or providing financial support by way of off‐farm earnings.

They continued: “While participants identified a range of roles from sole management to support, all the participants were clear about the roles they played. They were also clear on how they valued their own input to the management and operation of their farms.

“However their perceptions of how their work was valued by spouses and close family members revealed distinct differences within the spouse/partner group. A number of the women felt that their contribution was valued by spouses and family members. However an equal number believed their input was under‐ valued and that, regardless of how much work they did, they had no real influence on decision‐ making on their farms. For some, there is fear of encouraging the role of the women in case it undermines the role of the man. There were mixed responses in relation to how the women perceived their input was valued in the wider agri‐business environment. Responses ranged from those that believed they had no visibility to those that believed their opinions were well respected by professionals in the sector.”

In the report Dr Brogue and Mulhall stressed that the contribution of women to agricultural output should be recognised more but that financial control emanates confidence and generates both self‐belief and respect in business.

In its recommendations, they call for gender specific data in Teagasc National Farm survey and in data from the Central Statistics Office. They also call for an attitude change so that farming women, in particular young women, are portrayed in a better way in the farming press.

In terms of access to land, the NRN is calling for an examination of the cut‐off point of 35 years for stamp duty relief and consider if it is possible for specific exemptions in certain circumstances.

The NRN report is to be published this Friday.