Better profitability in agriculture would allow older farmers to retire, making room for younger stockmen and growers, lobby group Farmers For Action (FFA) has claimed.

“If farming was profitable, older farmers could afford to retire and young farmers coming into the industry would be automatic – because as we all know the enthusiasm is there, but sufficient money is not,” FFA steering committee member Sean McAuley said.

Questions over farm succession planning push

Farmers For Action members said they “fully support” succession planning – but only in the right economic environment – and added that questions need to be asked about succession planning.

McAuley said: “Who is concerned about the decreasing number of young farmers set to come into the industry? Why is there today such concern about young farmers and elderly farmers?

Surely the natural course of events would sort out succession if farming were profitable? In short, it’s all about money.

‘The elephant in the room’

McAuley explained that the UK’s cheap food policies had to come to an end to allow farmers to make a profit.

He said: “Today’s would-be young farmers and families-to-be are not going to work to lose money and go into debt just to be an intensive farmer to supply cheap food to line the pockets of the food corporates.

“Therefore, can it be right to try and persuade would-be young farmers to take that step by taking advantage of their wish to farm over the real elephant in the room – lack of profitability?

So that farm succession planning in 2017 will not be looked back on as pushing young farmers and their families into an industry where the majority could have to live below the poverty line to farm or indeed risk losing their farms.

“It’s time for this industry and Stormont to pull together and implement legislation on farm gate prices as soon as possible for a prosperous Northern Ireland.”

Recent statistics show around half of Northern Irish farmers have no identified farm successor.

In response, Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) have come together to launch the Land Mobility Scheme; a programme which pairs up older farmers looking to scale back or exit the industry with new entrants.