“I completely fell in love with the family farm”

Family migration and the Covid pandemic helped bring Bronagh O’Kane to her love affair with agriculture

After 20 years living in Scotland, Bronagh O’Kane has returned home to help out on the family farm.

It was never really in his plans for her, she said, “I wasn’t involved in the farm growing up.”

But with one brother emigrating and another starting his own business, combined with the effect of the Covid pandemic, things have changed very quickly.

“So I had from the end of 2019 until about June 2020, all the first birth and all by myself, and I completely fell in love with it.

“That was the beginning of the conversation: Could I tackle the family farm?”

Two years later he moved the company to indigenous breeds, changed the way he managed the land and faced the occasional raised eyebrow.

“I had farmers at the market asking me: ‘Don’t you have any brothers?’ I just laugh at it, they don’t mean anything harmful with it.

“That’s just what they’re used to seeing.”

Cows

Bronagh hopes attitudes towards women in agriculture will continue to change over time

A report from the Agriculture Committee earlier this year, titled Breaking the Grass Ceiling, found that culture in the agricultural sector posed a challenge for women.

It also found that women make up only 5% of the largest registered farmers in Northern Ireland.

At the third annual Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) Women in Agriculture conference, delegates will hear about those who work in agriculture – something UFU Rural Affairs President Jennifer Hawkes said was “extremely beneficial.”

She said that “sharing of experiences is key to creating solutions” and helping to support women, which would also have “enormous benefits for the Northern Ireland food industry as a whole”.

Ms Hawkes encouraged any farming men who might have attended the event to attend.

“They have an important role to play in the women’s movement in agriculture because while things are changing, with more women running farms, the largest percentage of farmers are still older males.

“Therefore, encouraging a daughter’s interest in agriculture, supporting her wife on a farm, or helping to ensure that we have an agribusiness industry that gives credit only to merit is extremely critical.

“Some efforts may seem smaller than others, but they all make a difference.”

Bronagh O’Kane hopes attitudes and opportunities in agriculture will continue to change over time.

“When chatting with other farmers, it is natural for them to think it will go to the children,” he said.

“There may be a different feeling in the air of considering who is best suited, 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.”

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