Succession: ‘Elders reluctant to let go for fear of pauperdom’

Macra na Feirme is calling for a renewed Government focus to be placed on farm succession in a bid to create “a positive view” amongst older generations.

James Healy, national president of the young farmer organisation, highlighted the matter during yesterday’s Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee meeting in Leinster House – where different approaches and new opportunities in Irish agriculture were discussed.

As part of a number of proposals presented to the committee, Macra outlined that upon reaching the age of 63, it should become “mandatory” for a farmer to complete a farm succession plan.

Other proposals suggested by the rural youth body include that:
  • At the age of 65, farmers should avail of a transition payment up to the age of 70;
  • And that if a farmer wishes to continue to receive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports beyond the age of 70, such a farmer should need to be involved in a collaborative arrangement.

“We believe a new focus on farm succession is required to create a positive view around farm succession that supports older generations,” said Healy.

Responding to the proposals, Fianna Fail’s Jackie Cahill described the stats on the number of young people that currently have control of land as “frightening“.

“At the end of the day, the ability to have land in your name, and the future decisions for that land, is key going forward.”

On the need for succession and land mobility, Cahill referred to recent media reports on the rapidly increasing price of land leasing.

This a barrier for land mobility to go to the young farmer – where the commercial, established farmer is probably in a better place to pay a higher price.

“But, as regards to your thoughts on farm succession, anything that has the word ‘mandatory’ in it would be resisted with vigor.

“I think the retirement scheme in the past served a very useful function. It enabled two families to live on what was the average family farm and the loss of that scheme is making farm succession definitely more difficult,” he said.

Marriage break-up concerns

Another issue that Cahill raised, and which he says “can’t be ignored in modern Ireland”, is that when it comes to the succession of land there is a prevalent fear among older generations of marriage breakdowns in the future.

The fear of marriage breakup, and the financial difficulties that that can bring forward, is something that can’t be ignored.

“Older people’s reluctance to let go of the reins can be for fear of being made paupers; and that can cause more of a ruckus than handing management of the farm over to the younger generation,” said Cahill.

Also Read: Succession: Do you know who’ll take the reins on your farm?

“I think the need to differentiate between ownership and management is key. It is the management of the farm that the young person wants to get at; they want to put their ideas and new thinking into vogue.

“That is the one that I think you should focus on more so,” Cahill suggested to Healy, and Macra na Feirme’s agricultural affairs manager, Derrie Dillon.

Promise of precision

The Macra delegation also emphasised the benefits that science and technology can bring to young farmers during the agriculture committee meeting.

Healy outlined that precision agriculture has the potential to improve the environmental and climatic impact of farming; while also decreasing costs for farmers.

Labour has become a major issue impacting on the dairy sector; but, technology can help address some of these issues.

For example, he highlighted how robotic milking machines allow greater flexibility, efficiency and can enhance a work-life balance.

“Automatic calf feeders can also be used to reduce the amount of labour required on farm. An added advantage to both of these is they will provide real-time data to farmers – identifying animals that may have issues even before it is visible to the farmer.” he said.

Although Healy pointed out that the uptake in precision technology has been strong in the tillage sector; he stressed that it has been “poorly” received across other sectors.

Macra is calling for supports to be put in place to encourage the use of precision technologies.

“Farming has suffered from a reputation of being an industry that requires long hours for below-average financial return.

Whether it is farmers themselves, or those in the education system, there are very few that have encouraged young people to consider agriculture as a career.

“The use of technology has the potential to allow those involved in farming to have a work/life balance much closer to that available in other careers,” Healy said.