December 5, 2022

Agriculture sector ‘must work hard to provide pathways for young people’

The agricultural sector must “work hard to provide pathways for young people”, stressed Macra na Feirme.

Speaking at this week’s Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Sea, Macra National Chairman John Keane said that to ensure the sustainability of the sector in the future, it is paramount that barriers that currently exist to the entry of young people are removed.

‘It cannot be true that the only viable route to farming is through your parents or a blood relative who owns land,’ Mr Keane told the committee.

“It’s like saying that a young person can only become a mechanic if his parents own a garage.

“Limited access to a small number of people will do little to ensure the long-term viability and growth of all rural areas.”

Barriers

Key barriers described by Mr. Keane include: access to land; access to affordable secure financing; support and knowledge transfer; way of life; and changing political environment.

“Tackling obstacles is not a silver bullet,” Mr Keane continued.

“Access to land remains a huge challenge for young people.

“Greater support for the land mobility service is needed and greater security is needed for older farmers to retire from farming and remain financially secure.

“With land prices rising at rates we haven’t seen in decades, significant investment is needed to help young people become competitive in the sector.”

On affordable finance, Mr Keane said the need to invest in infrastructure, livestock and management tools on many farms “is significant and costly”.

“Many young people who have had limited experience with financial institutions find it very difficult to access finance,” Mr Keane continued.

“Therefore, a specific low-cost financing option specially tailored to young farmers should be put in place to facilitate the financing option.”

He added that for many years Macra has emphasized the need for a succession plan, “that addresses the needs of older farmers while providing them with financial security”.

Diversification

Although there are challenges, Mr Keane said there are many opportunities in the Irish agricultural landscape.

To take advantage of these opportunities, “flexible and responsive support” and “sound policy” are needed.

Macra seeks targeted investments in areas of diversification that can provide income to farmers, while having environmental and social benefit.

Areas where the organization sees opportunity but a lack of investment and pathway creation include on-farm energy production; anaerobic digestion; agritourism; production of energy crops; models of high nutrient use efficiency farming systems; and organic farming models driven by market demand.

“In order to realize these opportunities, we need to completely rethink the policy,” Mr Keane told the committee.

“The constant push for production reduction and restriction without including efficiency is a fundamentally flawed policy.

“Where there are opportunities in the industry, there’s no point in slowly closing the door.”

Macra called for all future policy instruments to be assessed to determine their impact on generational renewal.

“Just as it is the norm to assess environmental impact, it must now become the norm to assess the impact of all policies on young people in the sector and entering the sector,” said its submission to the ‘Oireachtas.

“Programs that support exclusion or reduction will do nothing to support the next generation or to create opportunities for young people to enter agriculture.”

The biggest threat to Irish agriculture

Mr Keane described generational turnover as the “greatest threat to Irish agriculture”.

“Unless we continuously develop generational renewal, the future of farming in Ireland is non-existent,” he added.

“With the age profile of farmers steadily decreasing, the proportion of young farmers entering the industry has decreased.

“Urgent corrective action must be taken.”

In his written statement to the committee, Mr Keane said it is ‘not ageist to suggest that young people are early adopters of technology and science’ which is ‘needed more than ever’.

“Science is constantly being developed, for that to make a difference we need a workforce that will embrace science and implement what is needed to deliver on our commitments,” he said.

“Status quo is not an option, it will result in ever fewer young people entering the industry.

“We desperately need an intervention that will turn the tide on the age profile of farming in Ireland.”