As many as 100 land mobility agreements could be made between farmers in Northern Ireland by 2019, those behind the newly-launched Land Mobility Scheme revealed.

Speaking at a press briefing, programme manager John McCallister said he had a target to match up 100 pairs of farmers into formal agreements within two years.

He said that while he felt the plans were “ambitious” he said that, given the level of interest in the scheme, he felt it was realistic.

So far, around 100 farmers have signed up to express their interest in the scheme.

Two sons

McCallister explained the 100 include a roughly even mixture of younger farmers looking for a farm and older farmers looking for someone to share the workload.

He said: “If you have a guy in his late 60s who might have been breeding and farming for 50 years, it’s not an easy decision to see that going down the lane.”

McCallister said examples of the types of situations he was working with farmers include two sons who both wanted to work in the industry.

They might have identified someone they would like to do something like this with, and might be looking for someone to advise on how to progress with this, and maybe to flag up some of the issues.

“There’s also cases where a workman wants to enter into a share-farm arrangement and there’s an established relationship there,” he added.

‘The most important thing is the relationship’

“Some of them are cases where there’s already an established relationship, and I suspect those will be easier to progress than ones where you are having to start from scratch and build up a relationship.

“We have to think about how we identity farm successors, and how we manage that transition; on a traditional family farm that transition might take place over a number of years as a young farmer is brought in, working beside their father – at first taking fewer management decisions and eventually taking more.

“With any agreement, particularly in share-farming partnerships, the important thing to get right is the relationship.

The relationship has to be good; they have to be driven by the same business goals, and that’s sometimes the hardest part of this job.

The 100-agreement target was set when Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) were making the business case to the Department of Agriculture for the scheme’s initial two-year funding.

‘A long-standing ambition’

YFCU president James Speers explained that setting up a Land Mobility Scheme had been a “long-standing ambition” of the organisation.

He said: “From our point of view we are really looking forward to making this work and making it a success. It has only been launched since the start of September and John has only started in his role. The positive feedback we are getting is that this will work.

“Let’s make the most out of the two years and hopefully we will have strong facts and figures to go back to them after the end of the two years.

In the South, the Land Mobility Service completed more than 282 agreements during its three-year pilot.

In more than half of the cases it worked with, the land owners had no known or potential collaborator in mind.

McCallister added that more could be done on a policy level to encourage farmers to move away from conacre. In the South tax incentives also boosted the success of the service.

Tax incentives in the South

“Our friends in the Republic of Ireland have some fairly interesting tax incentives for moving from leasing – and it’s banded; so the longer the lease, the more generous the tax allowance. That has really driven change in the South and it’s something we potentially need to look at here,” he said.

McCallister said the programme was “a way of spreading some of the workload” as well as also allowing farmers to specialise in particular areas.

“For example, a farmer might be a brilliant dairy farmer, for example, but not great at rearing calves – so it would actually make sense to put that off farm and concentrate on the areas that are good for him.”