Only 10% of Irish land is owned by women

Women have been under-represented in agriculture for many years, this is just one of the findings from the report by the National Rural Network on "Women in Agriculture".

The study suggests that the role of women in Irish agriculture has traditionally been underestimated, due to the predominance of male farm owners and the preference to transfer farmland to a son or other male relative.

Recent statistics suggest that ownership of land is at about 10% for women, so 90% of land is owned by men.

Delving deeper, the statistics show the number of female farmers is heavily skewed in the over-65 category, with 27% of women farmers being over the age of 65.

By comparison, 19% of all male farmers are over the age of 65.

One of the reasons for a relatively higher number of women farmers in the over-65 category is a result of the transfer of ownership to women as a result of widowhood.

The gender bias away from younger female farmers is clearly borne out in CSO data, which showed that for every one female farmer aged less than 35 years, there are 11 male farmers.

The CSO data of course reflects data from a previous point in time.

By contrast, the land mobility study carried out by Macra Na Feirme provided a snapshot of future farm transfer intentions.

The Macra Na Feirme study pointed to an almost identical position arising in future years, as farmers who partook in the study suggested female successors in just 11% of cases.

Examining the role of women in agriculture is not restricted to cases involving sole ownership and operation of farms by women, women have traditionally been involved in “behind the scenes” activity — in roles typical including calf rearing, milking, book keeping and administration.

Many of these women have not had their contribution officially recognised.

Recognition can come in a variety of forms, but from a tax perspective, there is the potential to take an inclusive approach by adding women as joint owners of land, preparing the farm accounts under joint names, and having the single farm payment paid out in both names.

Such recognition has big benefits, including security, self-esteem, motivation and shared responsibility.

From a tax perspective, inclusion of women by preparing farm accounts under a partnership approach has real financial benefits, in terms of potentially reduced tax through the use of additional tax bands for income and universal social charge. But there is also the longer-term perspective that women with a sufficient PRSI record can qualify for a contributory state pension in their own right.

In the case of husband and wife, the transfer of land into joint names can be done in many cases without any tax cost.

It is an area that deserves some consideration, particularly where the spouse either has taken up, or intends taking up off-farm employment before onward transfer to a successor.

The land mobility study carried out by Macra Na Feirme made a number of recommendations to improve the participation of women in agriculture, including the following:

n Educational programmes should be organised for women for the various roles they fulfil.

n There should be proactive targeting for women to participate in agricultural college courses.

n There should be promotion of women in agriculture, using real life case studies to popularise the concept of women as farmers.

Women in agriculture should have their networking groups and representation.

The establishment of a ‘Women in Agriculture’ unit in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be further explored. The purpose of this unit would be to promote the contribution (social and economic) made by women to farming in Ireland.

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