That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Claire Dolan, a 22-year-old UCD animal science graduate, with no farming background, in this week’s Women in Ag series.
“I am from Kiltoom in County Roscommon, on the outskirts of Athlone.
I do not come from a farming background – my uncle would have a suckler farm, but that would be the only connection I had to farming growing up.
But, I have always had an interest in farming and animals from a young age.
Then, I took agricultural science as a subject choice for my Leaving Cert – I absolutely loved it and found it very interesting, and I was keen to learn more.
I started studying animal science at UCD in 2018 after my Leaving Certificate, and I graduated in September of this year after completing the four years.
It was a last-minute decision to put ag science in UCD on my CAO application.
Originally, I had nursing in Limerick down on my CAO but decided to change it last minute before the deadline, and I can honestly say it was the best decision I ever made.
I chose UCD as it had a great reputation within the agricultural industry, and the graduates were highly sought after.
I completed my work placements across four different farms in six months, and I enjoyed every minute.
The work placements, as part of the course, are highly beneficial, and you make great friends and connections from doing them.
I was on work placement from March 2020, which was during the COVID lockdowns.
COVID made it challenging trying to get work placement and prevented us from going abroad, but it did not stop me from gaining the practical skills of farming that I can bring with me into the future.
The practical skills you gain from being on a working farm are skills you cannot teach in the lecture hall.
It is about getting hands-on on the farm and experiencing all aspects of farming life.
I absolutely loved every minute of placement and enjoyed being out on working farms.
The highlight of my animal science degree was definitely being a member of Ag Soc for four years.
All of the Ag Soc events were a great way to make friends and get to go on nights out like mystery tours and charity boxing nights, all while raising money for charity.
Last year, I took up the role of secretary on the Ag Soc committee, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
It is a lot of work organising the events as a committee, and it takes a lot of time and organisation, but it was worth it in the end as we managed to raise €60,000 for two worthy charities last year – Hooves for Hospice and the Community Air Ambulance.
Women in Ag
As a young female in the industry, the majority of the time, I feel I am treated the same.
Finding farm work is difficult as a lot of farmers want a male so they can ‘pull and drag’ and operate machinery.
That would be the main thing that I would have come across. Women are definitely capable of doing the same, but I think it is just a matter of tradition having men work the farm among the older generations.
However, it is definitely changing in the right direction, and it is not as common anymore.
A lot of females have become very successful in this industry, and it is great to see, as previously, the industry has been male-dominated.
Being a woman should not hold anyone back from succeeding in this industry, and if you love your work enough, you will succeed in agriculture regardless of your gender.
In September of this year, after graduating, I was lucky enough to receive a Walsh Scholarship to complete a research masters in Agricultural Innovation Support with Teagasc.
It is a two-year masters with one semester in UCD and the rest spent in an advisory office.
In January, I will begin my 18-month placement in the state agency’s Portlaoise advisory office researching part-time farmers and their engagement with advisory services.
I am looking forward to starting in Portlaoise and getting invaluable advisory experience over the next 18 months while working alongside farmers to complete my research.
I would aspire to have a career in either an advisory setting or in an agricultural college in the future, so this masters was the right option for me.
In the future, I would love to travel to places like New Zealand, Australia and the US.
I would have ventured on work placement only for COVID put a stop to it. I think it is important to travel and see how other countries are operating their farms as we are very used to seeing our grass-based system here in Ireland.
Moreover, I do not think I would stay abroad permanently as I would love to come back and have a farm of my own at some stage.
I think farming is a great way of life, and I would love to adopt this way of life for myself in the future.
Future of agriculture
I think the future of agriculture in Ireland will be a bright one, and it is very promising to see farmers working together to reduce our emissions.
Realistic and practical approaches are needed in terms of reaching the climate targets that have been set out, and I think it is important that farmers get their input on how to go about reaching these targets.
I think it is also vital that farmers take on an open mind when facing these environmental challenges.
Unfortunately, farming takes a lot of the blame when it comes to pointing fingers about the environment.
I think a lot of people forget we have one of the most sustainable farming systems in the world because of our grass-based diet.
As a young person in agriculture, I am very optimistic about what the future holds.
I have no doubt the industry has its challenges to face when it comes to reducing our emissions and becoming more sustainable.
However, I do think there is no other job like farming – It is such a rewarding job and working with animals is a great outlet to have as no two days are the same.
There are so many opportunities in the industry, and for any young person thinking about agriculture as a future career path, I would be the first to recommend going for it, and you will not look back.
I would also be strong about saying that just because you are not from a farming background does not mean you will be lost in this industry.
You would be surprised how many people have no farming background and are strongholds in the sector.”
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