After 20 years living in Scotland, Bronagh O’Kane has returned home to help on the family farm.
It was never really planned for her, she said: “I wasn’t involved in the farm growing up.”
But with one brother emigrating and another setting up his own business, combined with the effect of the Covid pandemic, that changed very quickly.
“So I had from late 2019 until about June 2020, all the first calvings and everything on my own, and I totally fell in love with it.
“That was the start of the conversation – could I take the family farm?”
Two years later, she’s moved the farm to native breeds, changed the way the soil is managed, and dealt with the occasional raised eyebrow.
“I had farmers at the market asking me, ‘Don’t you have any brothers?’ I’m just laughing at them, they don’t mean anything harmful.
“It’s just what they’re used to seeing.”
An Agriculture Committee report earlier this year, titled Breaking the Grass’ Ceiling, found that cultivation in the agricultural sector was a challenge for women.
It also found that women make up only 5% of the main registered farmers in Northern Ireland.
At the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) Third Annual Women in Agriculture Conference later, delegates will hear from those working in agriculture – something the UFU’s rural affairs chair, Jennifer Hawkes, said to be “extremely beneficial”.
She said ‘sharing experiences is key to creating solutions’ and helping to support women – something that would also have ‘huge benefits for the Northern Ireland agribusiness industry as a whole’.
Mrs. Hawkes encouraged all farmers who could attend the event to join us.
“They have an important role to play in the movement of women in agriculture because even though things are changing, with more women leading agricultural businesses, the largest percentage of farmers are still men. older.
“Therefore, nurturing a girl’s interest in farming, supporting her wife on a farm, or helping to ensure that we have an agribusiness that gives credit only on merit is extremely critical.
“Some efforts may seem smaller than others, but they all make a world of difference.”
Bronagh O’Kane hopes that attitudes and opportunities in agriculture will continue to change over time.
“Discussing with other farmers, it’s natural for them to think that it will go to sons,” she said.
“There might be a different feeling in the air considering who is better equipped, who really wants it first and not based on the tradition of giving it to the eldest son because that’s what people do.
“It’s what’s best for your family, your context, your farm.”