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05 Mar, 2019

Women who are changing the face of Irish agriculture

With International Women’s Day taking place on 8 March with a theme of “Balance for Better” ifac has taken the opportunity to celebrate some of the women who are today changing the face of Irish agriculture.

With International Women’s Day taking place on 8 March with a theme of “Balance for Betterifac has taken the opportunity to celebrate some of the women who are today changing the face of Irish agriculture.

Farming and agriculture have long been considered a male-dominated realm. 2016 figures from the Central Statistics Office show that just under 13,000 women were employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing that year. That represents just under 11pc of the total 116,000 workers in those sectors which by EU standards is low. Of course, women have always been central to the work begin done on farms every day from as far back as we can remember but often that work is unpaid so doesn’t show up in the statistics. But now things are changing. At ifac, we’re noticing an increasing trend towards more women taking over traditional family farms. Farm succession - long the preserve of father to son hand overs - is changing. Today daughters, nieces, sisters, aunts and wives are taking legal ownership of family farms and in so doing reflecting a global trend towards a feminisation of professions.

We’ve been using the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019 to shine a light on some of those women. Women who are returning to family farms having begun a different career in a different sector and are thriving. The draw of the land and the life that working the land allows has never been greater for these women. And its not just those farming the land. We are also seeing a big increase in women in leadership positions in agri businesses from farm machinery, to ag tech innovation and lots more besides. More and more women are working hard in this exciting sector and despite the enormous challenges posed by Brexit and other external factors, these innovators are confident about the future.

Ifac teams across our 30 offices nationwide are working hard with women like those highlighted below to support them as they drive their businesses on with advice on everything from how to finance new technologies on their farms, to how to seek out new markets and how to make their farms as efficient as they can be.

Women who are supporting ifac’s IWD campaign:

Bernice Renaghan from B&N Renaghan Enterprises Ltd. Bernice looks after the poultry side of their farm along with their six children (ages 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4). She has five chicken houses and they produce a batch of 120,000 every six weeks, which equates to about 720,000 birds each year. Her husband Nigel is involved with the IFA and works away from home so she looks after the poultry business while managing a busy household herself most weeks. Her family had a dairy farm which her brothers now run. She used to work in retail but after their second child was born, she decided to go into farming more or less full time and opened up their first three chicken houses on the farm. Now she manages very sizeable poultry business along with juggling housework, four children pick-ups a day and all the paperwork attached to the business. All in a day’s work!

Gillian O’Sullivan is the 2018 Zurich Farm Insurance/ Independent Farmer of the Year. Her family owned a dairy farm in Dungarvan in Waterford but Gillian became a vet and was based in Bray dealing with small animals. When her brother passed away suddenly in 2008, Gillian decided to go home for a while and help her father out on the farm. The following year Gillian and her husband Neil (also a vet) decided to give farming a go and it turned into a full-time job for them both. Her Dad taught them everything he knew and during this time they got married and now have three young children. She speaks passionately about the value of farming and how rewarding it is as a career and lifestyle that compliments family life.

Noreen Lacey, Head of Business Development of ifac, is the perfect example of a successful woman in agriculture working on a family dairy farm, who has a successful full-time career and young family. Noreen is originally from Laois with a Dairy Background, and is now living and farming in South Kilkenny, along with bringing up her family and thriving in a full-time, senior management role. Noreen worked in banking sector for 16 years before moving to ifac. She is also a council member of the Irish Grassland Association which plays a central role in the development of profitable systems of milk, beef and lamb production from Ireland’s abundant grasslands.