Increasing the visibility of women in farming and providing a support network are the chief goals of the newly-formed South East Women in Farming group.

More than 70 women packed into the Woodford Dolmen Hotel in Carlow on Tuesday night to debate how the role of women in farming could be accentuated.

The panel of guest speakers included Helen Carroll, presenter of RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground; Caitríona Murphy, deputy news editor of the Irish Farmers Journal; Eric Donald, head of corporate communications at Teagasc; and Claire McCormack, journalist with the Farming Independent.

Self-confidence among women was one of the major barriers identified on the night, with many women admitting to being reluctant to put themselves forward in public.

In some cases, this is because they also have off-farm jobs, while in others, they did not want to be seen to be overstating their role or claim on the farm, and still more were simply afraid of being interviewed or photographed.

The assumption that only men could be farmers was highlighted, with one woman being asked “Where’s the boss?” by a farm safety inspector, despite her name being listed on the inspection form.

Another woman reported difficulties dealing with the Department of Agriculture because the herd number was not in her name, even though she dealt with all paperwork.

The small number of women involved in farming organisations was also debated, with Cavan-based Elizabeth Ormiston warning: “There will never be progress for women in IFA until there is acceptance of women in IFA.”

Conference organiser Suzanna Crampton told the gathered women that South East Women in Farming group was not going to be another lobby group. Instead, it aims to create a support network for women, highlight female role models and become a point of contact for media.

The group is planning to provide media training for women. The group’s next meeting on 21 February will focus on agricultural education. It will take place in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel at 7.30pm.