Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA, has celebrated the vital role women play in Northern Ireland's agri-food industry during his speech to officially open the third Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) Women in Agriculture conference.
The theme of this year's conference, which was held in the Glenavon House Hotel in Cookstown, is Breaking Ground. This is in recognition of the work done by the AERA committee in conjunction with UFU and the Northern Ireland Rural Women's Network, which saw the report Breaking the Grass Ceiling - Challenges Women Experience in the Local Agricultural Sector published in March 2022.
Speaking at today's event, Minister Poots said: "I am delighted to attend the UFU's third Women in Agriculture conference today. This year's theme is Breaking Ground and I do recognise that in some instances there are perceived barriers to women pursuing careers in the agriculture sector including access to capital, training, succession, and caring responsibilities as highlighted in the 'Breaking the Grass Ceiling' report published earlier this year. It is important that the industry moves forward in a way that supports and encourages women to take on leadership roles both within farm businesses and across the wider sector."
The Minister continued: "My Department continues to promote the important role our female staff play. Female colleagues make vital contributions to all aspects of the sector including to policy development, programme delivery and decision making, all of which is reflected positively on the way our agricultural landscape is changing. I want to acknowledge the important role women have always played, and to play, in the sector and, indeed, in all parts of our society.
"I am particularly pleased to see growing participation by young women in agriculture and firmly believe that increasing female representation within the leadership of the industry is important. I am pleased to see that the trend in females undertaking further and higher education qualifications at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) continues to grow. The College now has 51% females studying on the full-time Higher Education agriculture courses and 37% females studying in full-time Further Education agriculture courses. This figure represents a very welcome growing interest and active engagement of young women in the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland, which will undoubtedly increase the influence they will play in the agricultural environment in the future."
David Brown, president of the UFU said: "We were delighted to have Minister Poots join us at our sold-out Women in Agriculture conference alongside our guest speakers at the Glenavon Hotel. Women are critical to the sustainability and development of the industry and promoting women in agriculture is a key priority for the UFU. We are eager to do all we can to help create a more diverse agri-food industry that credits on merit alone, a key point that cropped up many times at the event.
"It is also extremely important to us to showcase the many wide-ranging jobs that are available in agriculture through the conference. Something which hasn't always been highlighted in the past, particularly to girls. We were delighted to have students from local schools at the conference as they are the future of the industry. Taking into consideration all the challenges coming down the track including climate change and a growing population, we need to be encouraging and nurturing the next generation of young agri enthusiasts, providing the support to enable them to progress in the industry and with opportunities to move into leadership roles."