Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett has spoken about the difficulties of being a woman farmer as claims were made that agriculture grants for women discriminate against men and could breach equality legislation.
Ms Hackett highlighted the problem that “there isn’t equality on the ground” for woman farmers who own just 13 per cent of holdings.
The Co Carlow-based farmer added that “there are cultural elements there and farms are not being left to girls, daughters and nieces” and it is a major problem.
“There are amazing woman farmers out there but it is difficult to be a female farmer,” she told Independent TD Michael McNamara. “When you go to the mart, it is 95 per cent men. It can be a difficult place to go,” she said.
She was responding after Mr McNamara questioned Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue in the Dáil about what he called the discrimination between male and woman farmers for grant funding under the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (Tams).
Under the scheme, aimed at farmers aged between 41 and 55, successful woman applicants will be allocated 60 per cent grant aid as part of a Cap (Common Agriculture Policy) initiative, compared to 40 per cent for men.
The Minister said there has been a “massive cultural challenge” over the years around women not being treated equally with men when it comes to farm inheritance because of cultural perceptions
He said that as part of efforts to “break down this cultural barrier” they were taking the “unprecedented step” of this allocation for women.
While just 13 per cent of farms are owned by women “the latest census figures show that 70,000 women in the country are involved in farm management and in actual active farming”.
Mr McNamara, a farmer who also trained as a barrister, said however that it was about “tokenism” and claimed the reasoning behind the grant was “ridiculous”.
He told the Minister: “The idea that when a farmer is deciding who to leave his or her farm to, he or she will decide to leave it to his or her niece rather than his or her nephew because she would get a better Tams grant is ridiculous.”
The Clare TD added that “not alone is this a little ridiculous, but it may not be lawful. I presume the Equal Status Act applies to the activities of the Department of Agriculture as well.”
He called on the Minister to “end the discrimination, regardless of its motivation”, adding: “I think the days of primogeniture or leaving it to the eldest son are well and truly over”.
“Most farmers now are relieved if any of their children are interested in farming,” or a niece or nephew if they have no children.
But Ms Hackett intervened and insisted “there isn’t equality”.
She said it was difficult for women to go to Marts which were 95 per cent male.
She added that it could also be challenging for women to go to a knowledge transfer group, discussion groups with peer support from other farmers.
“I have spoken to women who have gone to knowledge transfer groups who do not go any more.
“One element of that is that we are putting together female-only knowledge transfer groups because that is what we have heard woman farmers would like.”
Ms Hackett, a Green Party Senator, said the Government would not be standing up for woman farmers if they did not “respond to what we’re hearing from them”.
“We are trying to make this a more equal space” and the Tams grant and woman only knowledge transfer groups “are some of the many mechanisms we are trying to put in place to do that”.