“We’re not training the primary industry, farmers are soon going to struggle to find staff,” according to John Fitzgerald, secretary of the Irish Farm Managers Association (IFMA).
At a recent Waterford farm walk and workshop, more than 40 IFMA members discussed the major topics affecting the industry. Farm partnerships were the main area of discussion. “What it means for the operator and for the owner,” noted Fitzgerald.
The benefits of the partnership model are obvious, Fitzgerald said.
“Currently someone starting off in the dairy sector starts of as a farm worker and eventually works their way up to being the farm manager. After that there are no more steps on the ladder. High land prices and few farms available for long-term leasing mean it is difficult for farm managers to branch out on their own.
“We see the share farming model as a way around this problem. In this instance a farm manager progresses to sharing a certain percentage of the farm’s income and the same percentage of the expenses. In this way the share farmer has an extra incentive to maximise farm profit.”
On the topic Fitzgerald said: “The IFMA is trying to promote it. Long-term land letting is not trendy in Ireland which is unfortunate. The Budget was helpful but more is needed. Other incentives are needed particularly to aid the movement of land from an older generation to a newer generation,” he added.
On the training of farm managers, he commented “There’s a serious deficit in the level of training in terms of practical and financial skills for young farmers. The current training regime hasn’t delivered. With the Food Harvest 2020 targets setting out big expansion in the dairy sector, there is going to be a big demand for trained farm managers. The target of training 100 farm managers a year was set out in the report. We are nowhere near that currently and we are only 12 months away from the abolition of quotas.
“Education for the agri-industry has increased in recent years. However, training for the primary sector is very different. We’re not training the primary industry, the primary skills for farm manager have been forgotten. Farm managers need both technical and practical skills. There’s a serious deficit in the level of training in terms of practical and financial skills for young farmers.”
On advice for young farmers entering the sector, he said: “Get the best possible practical training you can. Get out there and manage a farm. Try and develop a relationship with a bank as early as possible. Develop a trust with the bank for the future. Many guys I see don’t have financial skills. Don’t have a financial plan.”
Commenting on the recent increase in young farmers plying their trade in New Zealand, he said: “There’s no doubt it’s a great experience and it broadens the mind. But they shouldn’t forget that there are a lot of really good operators in this country too.”
The key point from the IFMA event was shared farming. “I’d like to see a situation where a young farm manager is allowed build up stock on the farm where he is working. The farm would have two herd numbers. This would give a young guy a sense of ownership. It would also allow him to build a relationship with the bank. This is crucial nowadays.
“We have to change the mindset in the country. Young farmers are not as concerned about owning land as previous generations. They just want to farm, not own. Something needs to happen. The sector is turning over 600 farmers a year,” he stressed.