The most common question asked of me at our 2022 Women & Agriculture conference that took place in the Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim last week was “where is your mother?”

Unfortunately, Mam was not able to travel this year but I really appreciated (as did Mam when I told her) that women, many of whom only knew her through the event, asked after her. She was missed, as were many other women.

However, for some that ‘missed’ status is permanent since our last event with COVID-19, or simply time itself, taking its toll. Mairead Lavery paid a moving tribute to these women, many of whom had attended every conference since its inception. We offer our sincere condolences to these women and their families.

Age range

The age range of the Women & Agriculture audience spans more than 60 years. Many of these women have seen dramatic changes in politics, societal values and economic conditions. Such a breadth of knowledge leads to conversations based on entirely different formative experiences. The sharing of these experiences cannot be underestimated.

As Katherine O’Leary notes in her column, the event was all-encompassing and delivered on its theme of ‘connecting the generations’. While those who could not be there were missed, it was also noted there were a lot of first-timers too – a positive sign for women in the industry.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin suggested two viable reasons as to why this was. First, in his address he acknowledged the event’s unique quality – commenting that conferences where he receives a flower at the door are rare. This warm welcome came courtesy of Aine Kinsella from Tara Hill Flowers. Aine, who left her corporate job behind to pursue a passion for flower farming crafted not only a buttonhole for An Taoiseach (among others) but also the floral headband I was privileged to wear for the day.

The conference returned following a three year break due to COVID-19. Women and Agriculture Conference 2022. \ Philip Doyle

The second reason is perhaps this Government does have a genuine aim of promoting women in the agricultural industry and giving them recognition. We look forward to further details on the National Conference on Women in Farming recently announced by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. To bolster the accession of women to State boards, the minister, according to The Irish Times, has requested, that gender balance be considered in advance of nominations being sent to his office by boards under his remit.

This Government does appear to have a genuine aim of promoting women in the agricultural industry and giving them recognition. Women and Agriculture Conference 2022. \ Philip Doyle

However, targeted action is not limited to agriculture. An Taoiseach and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee both reflected on the low number of women in politics. To counter-balance this, gender quotas – set at 30% for the last general election – are rising to 40% from 2023. My own view is that no one wants there to be a need for gender specific conferences or letters of request or quotas but right now they are still needed. And if the result is more young women attending events, raising their hands, securing positions and becoming involved, that is a positive change.

National Diary Council panel speakers. Women and Agriculture Conference 2022. \ Philip Doyle

Our speakers, although asked to speak on a specific topic, which could be health or finance, will often share a personal struggle. This unexpected generosity, sharing a problem can be a vital support to normalise that issue for others in the room. This is recognition and acceptance. Every speaker reminded the audience of the vital role women play, on the farm, off the farm, in life and in the family home. Thank you all.

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