One of the main reasons is the 'deeply embedded' tradition of fathers passing the land to their sons

According to the Irish Farmers' Association, just 12% of Irish farmers are women. Prof Sally Shortall is Professor of Rural Economy at the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University and she spoke to Rachael English on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland about why farming remains overwhelmingly male. Here are some excerpts from the conversation that have been edited for length and clarity.

"Culturally, farming is a very male industry, and it's very much the tradition that fathers pass the land to their sons", said Shortall. "That is a tradition that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years, and it's very deeply embedded and it's a very big part of men's identity in farming. It's a tradition that has persisted for a long time and is now really starting to be questioned about whether there is time in a very different era of gender equality for such an occupation to continue to be so male-dominated."

Shortall talked about a study in Scotland, which may have some pointers for Ireland. "The Scottish government is very committed to gender equality, she explained, "and they were also very aware that they knew very little about women in agriculture. They commissioned this study and it's the first in-depth study of women in agriculture, and it was very broad reaching.

"We were looking at two types of women in farming because we have to remember that farming is not just carried out by the farmer, it's carried out by the farm family. There are a lot of women who do unrecognised work in the farm as the spouse, whether it's book-keeping or developing farm diversification. We were interested in those women as well as new entrants."

In general, women are not considered as heirs

Shortall found that the the biggest barrier was who inherited the land when the farmer died. "The biggest barrier is inheritance. Women really are not considered as successors when you're looking at who might take over the farm.

"I interviewed one woman who was the eldest of four daughters. She was 14, fully expecting to take on the farm. She told me that then her brother was born and she knew she would not inherit her parents' farm. It's that deeply embedded even in the minds of teenagers. She went into agriculture, she did an agricultural science degree, went into agriculture related employment. We saw this was a general pattern. Then when she married, she and her husband went into farming through renting land."

Shortall feels farming is missing women's dynamism as a result. "The women we interviewed, they were by far and away the most dynamic. Women tended to be very well-informed about agri-environmental schemes and so on because they were working in the area of agriculture and were able to bring all of that knowledge back to the farm. But in general, women are not considered as heirs. I interviewed another woman who inherited a large estate, and she was very clear she would not have inherited that had she had a brother."

You can hear the discussion in full, including contributions from farmer and Chairperson of the Cavan Executive of the IFA, Elizabeth Ormiston, below. 

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