A reflection on the contributions of women in agriculture on International Women's Day by Jeni Meade
In the past for International Women’s Day we’ve paid homage to agricultural trailblazers like the women seed collectors in Peru who keep the world’s best and most complete ‘library’ of potato varieties and Temple Grandin who pioneered intelligent design of abattoirs and animal behavioural science. We’ve celebrated Dr. Maria Andrade who brought drought resistant sweet potatoes varieties to Africa.
Closer to home in Ireland, we have other famous advocates such as Myrtle Allen, the Michelin-starred chef who championed Irish produce and taught us that Irish cuisine could go head-to-head with the French! Monica Gorman of UCD has advanced the study of international community development in agriculture. Aiobheann O'Brien and Iseult Ward founded the innovative social enterprise and community foodbank FoodCloud. Add to that all the Irish women who are leaders in Irish agribusinesses: Siobhan Talbot is CEO of Glanbia; Rose Hynes is Chairman of Origin Enterprises and on the retail front, Margaret Heffernan and Natasha Adams are CEOs of Dunnes Stores and Tesco Ireland, respectively.
These women have excelled in hitherto male-dominated areas and deserve the credit and recognition they have received regardless of their sex. International Women’s Day though is perhaps the time to focus on all the women who don’t get this recognition, among them the women who help form the backbone of family farms the world over. These are the women that have done the milking, pulled calves, pulled lambs, tagged them, wormed cattle, recorded animal medicines & crop sprays, fed the hens, managed chicken houses, driven tractors, stacked bales, gathered stones, picked strawberries, packed potatoes, carried water, herded cattle, picked breeding stock, filled out Single Farm Payment applications, cooked thousands of meals to feed hungry workers, kept the books, managed money and brought their valuable insights into how to make the farm work better.
These women sometimes might not get the credit or even the thanks they deserve, sometimes they get overlooked when farms are passed down. A recent government report states the scale of this issue: Women account for some 13% of all farm holders in Ireland. At the same time, CSO data shows there are approximately 75,000 female farm workers in Ireland. This points to over 58,000 women working in farming without visibility and without status as a farm holder.
In Ireland, green shoots are popping up more regularly. More and more stories are appearing of women who have taken over the family farm or returned from other careers to start thriving agribusinesses. Hopefully, this trend will continue to grow, especially at this time when Ireland needs committed, dynamic and innovative farmers to keep producing despite many obstacles being thrown their way. These women deserve to be properly recognised for keeping Ireland’s great agricultural industry going.
And to the many women (54% of our staff) who have brought their hard work, intelligence and insight to our family farm and packhouse, we thank you every day, but especially today on International Women’s Day.