Women will be the drivers of positive change in agriculture, European Commissioner for Financial Stability Mairead McGuinness told Teagasc’s EU 50 conference last Friday.

“And we ignore them at our peril, because women who work on and off farm are sustaining agriculture, they pay the college fees, they pay for the extras while the farm pays for the farm,” she told the conference which marked 50 years of Ireland being a member of the European Union.

Speaking about her concerns around generational renewal, she said that many young farmers may be doing the Green Cert, but those who will end up farming are becoming fewer and fewer and the big challenge, she maintains, for the next 50 years is securing labour on Irish farms.

“It’s partly because of the uncertainties of farming, but it’s also because we live in the reality of good employment in this country.

“If you look at the age structure, particularly in suckler farming, many farmers do keep going when they should stop, and many farmers are stopped because they can’t keep going, and sadly many are stopped because of accident. I think we are going to have significant change, not just in land ownership but the use of land because of age structure,” she explained.

Since Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, extraordinary modernisation has taken place on Irish farms, McGuinness said, adding that the Common Agricultural Policy was a catalyst for this.

“When we joined, our economy was relatively under-developed, very dependent for trade with the European Union. We were net beneficiaries from the EU budget until around 2014, today we are net contributors – a sign that we are a developed and wealthy member of the EU,” she said