For Ireland's Women in Agriculture Stakeholders Group, 2023 was not without its challenges, but that hasn't stopped the organisation from making big plans for 2024 and beyond.

The group - made entirely of volunteer representatives from Irish farming organisations - aims to tackle "inclusivity and gender balance in Irish agriculture".

Largely thanks to their mobilisation and their work with researchers to provide detailed data, they have been able to inform policy around the rights of women on farms throughout the country.

"There was great disappointment [this year] over the TAMS grant for women in agriculture," chair Mona O'Donoghue Concannon says. "It wasn’t anything like what we had lobbied for.

"But there have been positive discussions with the Department [of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, DAFM]; seeing what has worked so far and what hasn’t."

TAMS disappointment

When details of the TAMS grant for women in agriculture (which is 60% for women farmers or women in farm partnerships) came out earlier this summer, the stakeholders group stated that many women on farms would be excluded as a result of the rigid eligibility criteria.

Despite the Central Statistics Office (CSO) data telling us over 70,000 farm workers in Ireland are women, their work remains largely unrecognised and there are many minute details which are often overlooked by policy makers.

Mona O’Donoghue Concannon.

"The biggest thing for us has been the engagement with the different research projects [on Irish women in agriculture]," Mona explains. "A lot of their identified findings are exactly what we have identified ourselves on the ground.

"We’re happy to be involved with the CAP evaluation and we had the national dialogue in January [2023]. The official report was meant to be launched before Christmas.

"It will be interesting to see what the findings of that have been and, moving forward, what the Government intends to tackle."

Herd keepers

Mona believes that there is a massive opportunity in 2024 to build on what has already been accomplished with the Women in Agriculture Stakeholders Group.

The group is particularly pleased with the progress being made in terms of the herd keeper designation rule, which they say has been holding women farmers back in ways the DAFM has not realised.

"The Department has now identified that there is a problem in relation to the 'herd keeper'," Mona tells the Irish Farmers Journal.

"Up until now, we were told the idea of one person on a farm being the designated herd keeper was simply part of the process. We met with the Department – myself and six other farmers – and we were told it was just for animal control and health and welfare, that there would be someone identifiable; someone to come back to.

"We explained that's not the case on the ground – many farming organisations and co-ops use the herd keeper as the main person of contact and that's not right.

"So we had a meeting this past November and we got a commitment to engage with the stakeholders [co-ops and farming organisations] to tell them this policy is wrong.

"It’s not just women, it’s young farmers, too, and it’s people in partnerships," Mona adds. "We’re encountering young farmers – male and female – who are facing the same issues."

Learning curve

When the Women in Agriculture Stakeholders Group was first formed in 2021, there were few examples for them to learn from. Mona says the group has gone through some transformative times and it was a huge learning curve to get it off the ground in a workable way.

"Really, we're just seven farmers working with organisations to help meet our goals," she explains. "We’re learning on the ground and we keep evolving. We’re lucky because we’re willing to change.

"We are now forming a formal structure which will be finalised in 2024. We want to have a firm structure in place for when we move on and others take our places. Issues will always be there, but if there is a firm structure in place we can keep going in the right direction."

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