Women own just 12% of farms in Ireland, forum hears

‘Marrying land’ rather than succession is main way for women to get farm ownership

Agricultural roots: women were not even counted as part of the farming workforce in many censuses,  UCD’s Prof Mary Daly told a conference on Women and Agriculture.

Agricultural roots: women were not even counted as part of the farming workforce in many censuses, UCD’s Prof Mary Daly told a conference on Women and Agriculture.

 

Most women are still entering farming by “marrying land” because farmers prefer to leave land to their sons, the Women and Agriculture conference has heard.

Women are the sole owners of just 12 per cent of farms in Ireland, or 10 per cent of the land, and most of these women own the land through marital transfer.

Tanya Watson of NUI Galway’s school of political science and sociology said no other occupation had such an imbalance in property ownership.

“Men own 90 per cent of all farmland in Ireland which shows a significant imbalance in property ownership between men and women,” she said. “You wouldn’t see this imbalance in any other occupation but it exists in farming.”

She was addressing more than 650 women at the conference in Trim, Co Meath, which was organised by the Irish Farmers Journal.

Entry method

Sally ShortallQueen’s University Belfast

During research she conducted in 1987, one woman told her that her son would inherit the farm but she hoped her daughter would “marry land” because she loved farming. Prof Shortall conducted similar research in 2012 and spoke to an 18 year old who was very active on the family farm but she said her two brothers would inherit the farm while she said “I’m hoping that I’ll marry land”.

“So in terms of women’s entry, there’s been almost no change there. We still have very few women at marts.”

Ms Watson noted that one in four farms in Europe, and one in three in Austria, were owned by women. She said US research had clearly shown that farm households had higher income as a result of joint ownership between men and women. It was becoming increasingly recognised, particularly at EU level, that “for agriculture to be sustainable and innovative into the future, it is crucial that women’s participation is increased”.

Ms Watson said not owning land was a critical barrier to women wishing to farm because it made them invisible when decisions were being taken about issues such as agricultural education. It affected their access to credit from banks, and gave them fewer options if they were seeking protection from domestic violence.

Loud applause

Mary DalyRoyal Irish Academy

She had been speaking of her shock at the under-representation of women in agriculture.

She noted how women were not even counted as part of the agricultural taskforce in population censuses before and after Independence.

Meanwhile, Dr Anne Cassidy of NUI Galway’s school of political science and sociology warned against ignoring the feelings of siblings who didn’t inherit the farm. She said they represented the majority of children who grew up on farms but their feelings were rarely considered.

Her study of university students found they usually had a deep attachment to the family farm and a need to see it kept in the family. “These were people who were very firmly setting themselves up in a professional environment, studying to be doctors or solicitors . . . but they still saw this as this a really deep and central part of their identity.”

Dr Cassidy said these children were often invisible in the succession process.

“But what would happen if they don’t agree to relinquish their share or claim to the farm?

“It could end up in court, or could have the family absolutely blown apart so they do play quite an important role in making sure that the family farm culture is passed from one generation to the next.”