There are strong links between Australian women in agriculture and Irish women in agriculture. In 2003 Cathy was the key note speaker at the inaugural conference of the Irish Women in Agriculture at Croke Park. (See 'speech' tab). Six hundred women called on the Irish Government and Irish Farmers Association to recognise and acknowledge the work of women.
THE CROKE PARK DECLARATION
"We hereby call on the Government to urgently establish a permanent Women in Agriculture Section within the Department of Agriculture and Food, charged with driving forward the agenda for women in agriculture. This executive unit will lead the development and implementation of viable strategies and policies in full co-operation with every other relevant Department and Agency."
While the Government has not yet established the Unit, the organisation of women in agriculture in Ireland goes from strength to strength.
IRISH WOMEN IN AGRIC SINCE 2003 - Australian Farm Women Inspire 'Women Drive Tractors Too' Book
The remarkable and inspiring true life stories of 18 Irish women in agriculture have been told in a new book, 'Women Drive Tractors Too'. The book's author, Mary Carroll, said she had been inspired to write the book by the advances made by Australian farming women, who are now regarded as world leaders in terms of positive action for women in agriculture.
'Women Drive Tractors Too' makes a unique and forceful statement about the current state of agriculture in Ireland by allowing the women to talk about the struggles they have faced in making their way in the male-dominated world of farming. The book retails at EUR10 and is available in all good book shops and to purchase on-line at www.womendrivetractorstoo.com.
'Women Drive Tractors Too' tells the stories of farming women such as Ann Kehoe, who successfully tackled the widespread illegal smuggling of lambs, Marie Doherty, the youngest ever County Secretary of the Irish Farmers Association, and 70-year-old Margaret A Gill, a founder member of the Irish Countrywoman's Association.
'Women Drive Tractors Too' details the stories of the 18 women's lives and how they have had to battle the odds, overcome major obstacles and show great determination to succeed in farming.
Mary Carroll has been praised for her book by Cathy McGowan, Past President, Australian Women in Agriculture. "Mary Carroll is an inspiration for all women in agriculture. She has a great ability to capture the stories of the ordinary and yet extraordinary lives of women and their families," said Cathy McGowan.
The links between Irish farming women and their counterparts in Australia have grown over the years and in 2003 an Australian delegation visited the national Women in Agriculture conference in Dublin. This was followed a year later by 32 Irish farm women travelling to Australia on a study tour, and this year 30 Tasmanian women came to Ireland on a similar visit.
In her foreword to 'Women Drive Tractors Too', Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, TD, writes: "The stories that Mary Carroll has so compellingly compiled are eloquent testimony to the many roles played by these women, as they make their way through life in a dramatically changing landscape. She has captured the very essence of modern Irish rural life through the eyes of these energetic and enterprising women."
"Women in agriculture can often be invisible, but I chose these particular 18 role models because they are women who inspire, motivate, engender confidence and promote positivity - not just for me but for everyone with whom they have contact," said Mary Carroll.
An only daughter who grew up on a farm in County Laois, Mary is a former Equality Officer with the IFA and now works as a consultant in the area of communications, training and equality, including a part-time position with Concern. She lives in her home village of Ballyroan, Co Laois.
Several networking trips to visit and meet other women in agric groups around the world
2004 - Australia - link to AWiA - attended gathering also some of group went to Tassie with Tas Women in Agric
2007 - visit to USA - Sth Dakota and Nebraska - met Women in Blue Jeans Gathering group
2008- visit to England - see alternative enterprises - Cumbrian women in agric
2009 - Argentina - met with women producers, the SRA (Argentinean farm organisation)
Women in agric conferences - held in 2008 and 2009 - gathers women (600 approx) from all over Ireland to discuss policy and 'lighter' issues - this year focus on stress handling and succession plnning;
Organised by The Irish Farmers Journal
THE IRISH ARGENTINE CONNECTION
In 2009 members of Irish women in agriculture travelled to Argentina to build networks across the Atlantic. Mary Carroll was the project organiser - here are her impressions.
"The recent Irish women in agriculture study tour to Argentina could not have taken place at a more interesting time, as the week before our arrival the first ever Ministry of Agriculture was established. In a country built on agriculture this may come as a surprise, but for farmers here who are locked in protest with the Government, it is a sign of how they are viewed by decision makers.
With a population of 40million people, Argentinean agriculture is capable of feeding 300million people. Farmers unions claim that they are being blocked by gruelling taxes, especially the current 35% export tax, along with income tax, local tax and a production based land tax, all designed to keep cheap food available for the domestic market.
This was among some of the issues the Irish women in agriculture group discussed during a meeting with the Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA), which is the Argentinean equivalent of the IFA. Meeting with the President and the vice President of the SRA, Dr. Hugo Luis Biolcati and Alexander Delfino, the group heard how the 4 largest farm lobbies in Argentina have come together to fight the Government. They have formed 'The Liaison Board', which is seeking a reduction in export duties and more aid to farmers hit by extended droughts and falling commodity prices.
Knowledge amongst the urban population about agriculture is very limited and farm unions here are now realising the importance of communicating their message to win support, especially against a Government which is unpopular with everyone. Farmers are now taking on a new role to promote and explain their work and to counter the message from Government that they are a self interest lobby group who make easy money.
Given the size of the country and the differences in climate, a great variety of agricultural enterprises are found, from tea growing in the tropical north to sheep production in the cold south in Patagonia. Agriculturally the most important areas in Argentina are the humid Pampas - the flat grasslands that extend inland for up to 500miles.
Travelling out to the Pampas the group were struck by the vastness of the farms and the flatness of the terrain. Passing towns with names like Murphy, Duggan and Kavanagh, really brought home the influence the Irish have had here. The Irish acquired large areas of land, much of which their descendants still control.
Visiting a grain and dairy farm, one of the group leaders, Mary Flynn from Co Waterford said "It is difficult to apply to our own systems as the scale is so much different as are regulations or lack of them in Argentina, but it is very interesting to see how their system operates".
Mary Vaughan Mullane from Co Limerick added, "the farms here are run much more as a business. This is something we need to do at home to make anything out of farming. We need to find the person best able to run it as a business and make it profitable rather than just hand it on in a traditional way".
The group were hosted at one of the farms managed by the company set up by Jim McCarthy. The farm, 'El Descanso' ('The Resting place'), is situated 405km from Buenos Aires. The 5,431ha (13,420 acres) - that's all the land on one side of the road from Catledermot to Athy by 2 miles deep! - is owned by a group of Irish and English shareholders.
The farm is currently producing Wheat, Soyabean and Maize. The most upto date proven technologies are used to cut costs, save time and ensure the entire enterprise is more efficient and accountable. GPS farming systems provide precise guidance for field operations. They manage every aspect of their agricultural operations to improve overall productivity and efficiency - from planting to harvesting, and literally work the land by the square foot instead of the square mile.
No-till Direct Drill farming
Argentina's tendency for no-till farming was also evident on the farm. In no-till agriculture the soil is left undisturbed from harvest to planting. The farmer uses a disk or chisel plough to prepare the field for seeding. Rather than turning the field, these ploughs create a narrow furrow, just large enough for the crop's seeds to be injected. Tractor attachments inject a band of fertilizer in with the seeds, thus negating the need to fertilize the whole field, and close up the furrow after the seed and fertilizer have been planted. Following harvesting the remains of the plants are allowed to form a mulch on top, which protects the land from drying out.
In a properly designed no-till system, pest (weeds, disease, and insect) control is accomplished primarily with the following cultural practices: rotation, sanitation, and competition. Herbicides may be used to provide the crop with a competitive advantage over the weeds.
Co Limerick farmer, Anne Gabbett said "The vastness of the Pampas farms is hard to imagine. The way they work with technology to maximise profitability is very interesting as is how they have developed the land and the use of the no till system".
Another striking difference to Ireland is that GM crops are now a form of conventional agriculture for farmers in South America.
No country for vegetarians
Everywhere we went great slabs of beef appeared on the table usually through the traditional 'asado' or barbecue. There is no doubt the Argentineans value their beef and the amount produced and consumed is sizeable. People here eat more beef than do people in any other country -- about 65kg (143 lbs) a year per person - compared to average of 18kg per person in the EU.
Liniers Cattle Market
With the vast amount of beef consumed it is no surprise that the largest cattle market is found in Argentina! Liniers Cattle Market in Buenos Aires covers over 34 hectares or a little over 84 acres, and supplies the domestic beef needs for Buenos Aires. Some 10,000 to 15,000 head of cattle are sold here each day, four days a week. On the day we visited there were 12,384 head for sale.
A whole system of walkways had been built over the market, allowing anyone to hover over the cattle and never set foot on the ground. A TV reporter and cameraman follow the auctioneer around, reporting on the day's prices, which are a major influence on prices across Argentina.
When they arrive, each lot of cattle is weighed and inspected thoroughly to strict health standards. They will not leave the confines of Liniers Cattle Market until they have been sold; in the rare case of a lot remaining unsold that day, it will simply be up for auction the next. In the meantime, they ingest only water. No feeding is allowed, so the quicker they are sold, the better.
To enter the market, an animal must be at least 2 years old and weigh no less than 260 kilos. The price per kilo at the market is astonishingly low at approx 3.2pesos/kg live weight, which is less than 60c/kg. The majority of the cattle are either Angus (black and red) or Hereford.
Succession planning Argentinean style
Planning for succession of Argentinean farms takes place in a very different way to here. In Argentina, a farmer can only dispose of 20% of his assets/property to who he chooses - the remaining 80% must be divided equally between all his offspring. This system has been in place in Argentina for a long time and removes the resentment that can be felt if land is given to one offspring. As the larger property is subdivided through the generations what usually happens is that the farm is formed into a company with the siblings acting as shareholders, with those more actively involved being paid a wage as managers of the farm. If one sibling wishes to sell they can sell to another sibling or to an outside shareholder. In this way the size and possible income earning from the farm is not affected.
Argentineans with broad Irish midlands accents
It might as well have been a community hall in the midlands of Ireland, but it was the Fahy Centre in central Buenos Aires, and the hosts with the midlands accents were Argentinean. The Irish women in agriculture group were being welcomed to Argentina by the Irish-Argentine Society and the Irish Ambassador Philomena Murnaghan. Nearly two thirds of the Irish migration to Argentina was from Westmeath so many still speak English with Westmeath accents, and have interesting mixes of Spanish first names and Irish surnames, such as Patricio Wallace, and Oswaldo O'Connell.
The pride the society feels in its connection to Ireland is immense and as word of the visit spread there was another reception to greet the group as they travelled out to the Pampas area in the town of Venado Tuerto, where the Irish-Argentine society is lead by José Wallace.
The Irish migration to Argentina is unique in a number of ways. It is the only large Irish migration to a non English speaking country, and the migration was mostly to rural areas. It is estimated that there are at least 300,000 people of Irish descent in Argentina.
Lasting legacy of the trip
All participants felt that the trip opened their eyes to a range of different ways to do things, but an even more important part of the trip are the friendships which were formed which will last much longer than it takes for the Argentinean dust to settle from the group. Mother and daughter Ann and Mary Gibbons from Kilkenny, travelled out together and found the accessibility to ordinary Argentinean lives amazing - "We met and chatted with local people and visited them on their farms and saw the real Argentina. We were treated like absolute VIPS including the welcome we received from the Irish ambassador".
One thing the tour showed above all else is that farmers' concerns are the same everywhere - problems with prices and concerns about Government policies.
For any Irish people interested in getting involved with Argentinean agriculture the message seems to be it is a profitable business but you must be prepared to play by the local rules.