Fears farmers could become an ‘endangered species’ in the western region

There are real fears emerging that farmers could become an “endangered species” in the western region, according to Sean Canney TD.

Representing the Galway East constituency, Deputy Canney said that recent statistics released by the Western Development Committee are a “stark indication” of some of the trends in rural Ireland.

Speaking to AgriLand, he said: “There were 41% less people employed in agriculture in the space of 20 years, between 1996 and 2016.

If that happened in any other sector there would be an outcry; people are choosing to move to the cities instead.

“There was a bit of a recovery between 2006 and 2011, as a result of the recession; people who had been working in the construction industry returned to the family farm in the downturn,” he said.

Deputy Canney believes that if current trends continue there will be less and less farmers in the western region and much larger farms.

The western region is made of seven counties: Donegal; Leitrim; Sligo; Mayo; Galway; Roscommon; and Clare.

In the five-year period between 2011 and 2016, the number of people employed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry dropped by 1,715; this was the biggest decline witnessed across all other sectors during that time-frame.

But the local representative is of the opinion that more can be done at government level to support people living in rural Ireland – as well as farmers.

The fact that farmers are being pushed towards applying for schemes online without access to sufficient broadband services or training is just one example of a deterrent to people who may be interested in getting into farming or a reason for those in the sector to get out, he explained.

Farming is a business at the end of the day; it’s a cut-throat business. If you make a wrong move you can be penalised.

There is significant fear among farmers that entering one wrong number in an application could result in a reduction of the direct payment; money which small farmers are highly dependent on, he explained.

Deputy Canney believes that a bit of common sense is needed and that some slack needs to be given to small family farms; otherwise these worrying downward trends will continue.

Supporting small family farms is not only of economic benefit to rural communities, but it also provides social and security benefits to the area, he added.