State bodies under the control of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been asked to improve the representation of women on their boards.

Charlie McConalogue said he will refuse nominations to State boards for which he is responsible, if women are not sufficiently represented on them.

There are 12 State bodies under the Department of Agriculture.

Government policy has a target of at least 40% for representation of each gender on State boards.

The minister's comments came as the first National Dialogue on Women in Agriculture took place in Co Laois.

Historically women have been key workers on farms in Ireland but have not been as visible as their male counterparts.

Today's conference coinciding with La Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid's Day, was the first National Dialogue on Women in Agriculture and it heard better gender balance in needed.

Currently, 27% of farm workers are female, but just 13% of Irish farm owners are women.

Minister McConalogue warned that more women need to be appointed to State boards.

He said he will block nominations to the 12 boards under his responsibility if the Government gender target of 40% females is not being achieved.

"In the case of the 12 state bodies for which I have responsibility, there is an under representation of women on these boards.

"I am reiterating the request of my predecessors in asking the chief executives of agri-business companies to support women within their companies expressing an interest in being appointed to the boards of state bodies and to encourage those who may not as yet have considered putting themselves forward," the minister said.

The dialogue was chaired by former tánaiste Mary Coughlan to coincide with St Brigid's Day.

The Women's Dialogue also heard from speakers including Germany's former agriculture minister Julia Klöckner and Glanbia CEO Siobhán Talbot.

Additional reporting Mícheál Lehane