Opinion

Can Irish agriculture attract people from beyond its traditional heartland?

Brexit should not be allowed to become a naval gazing exercise on the part of Irish agriculture.

Merely focusing on our future trading relationship with the UK runs the risk of us missing out on a very positive and bigger picture.

The greatest challenge facing mankind today is that of producing enough food to feed a fast growing global population. Add in the fact that countries like China and many others throughout south east Asia have fast-growing middle-class communities and the problem of finding people with the money required to buy high-quality food becomes considerably less with every day that passes.

I could have written the paragraph above five years ago. But back then it really would have been an exercise in speculation. Today, however, it has a degree of fact-based reality associated with it.

In my opinion, the prospects for Irish agriculture and food have never been brighter.

We tick every box imaginable, when it comes to meeting the quality standards expected by export-based customers around the world.

All of this is built on our immensely authoritative food trace-ability systems to which one can add the clean, green image which Ireland enjoys internationally. Another feather in our cap is the fact that Ireland’s grain sector is GM-free, an attribute which we do not shout about strongly enough.

So much for good news: the not so positive element within the Irish agri-food equation is the age profile of our farmers. 

The industry needs new blood. And if these people come from outside the heritage of what is already in place, so much the better. They will bring with them different ideas, allied to a fresh commitment that can bring about step-change improvements.

I am aware of many people who have often thought of a career in production agriculture, but were put off by what they regarded as the excessive impediments in their way.

And we all know what these are. Access to land remains the number one challenge in this regard. But the times they are a-changing. Take milk production, as a case in point.

Up to two years ago, new entrants into that sector were confronted with the double challenge of securing the land they needed and procuring quota.

At that time, both issues came with a very substantial price tag. But quotas are now a thing of the past and the even better news is that very positive steps are being taken to provide new entrants into farming with an opportunity to access the land they need in an extremely amenable fashion.

The development of a land mobility service by Macra na Feirme is now providing new entrants into farming with valuable opportunities to develop inherently sustainable business models while, at the same time, working with landowners who want an equally sustainable retirement option from an industry which they have given their lives to.

Succession planning within farming families is an issue that goes to the heart of the future prospects for agriculture in Ireland.

But broadening the base of people actively working within the sector is equally important. The land mobility service allows both issues to be addressed with equal fortitude.

So for those people who have always dreamt of following a career in production agriculture, I say: “Your time is now!”

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