Generational change key to combat Ireland’s farming imbalance, Minister

‘Average field gets sold once every 400 years outside a family’
‘Only six per cent of farms are owned in Ireland by people under the 35 years’

 There is currently an imbalance in farming that threatens Ireland’s agriculture expansion plans. This is according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, who stressed prioritising generational change strategies to combat land availability is key to Ireland’s agri-business.

Speaking to AgriLand, Minster Coveney said a priority for his Government is more generational change strategies for Irish agriculture.

“We need to see more availability of land and more generational change in Irish agriculture for many young farmers who want to invest, grow and expand,” he said.

“We are planning a combination of strategies to encourage generational change and to promote farmers and support young farmers using the Irish tax system to promote the availability of long-term leased land and also encouraging farmers to retire of they want to, to make their land available to a new generation of farmer.”

According to the minister, the average field in Ireland gets sold once every 400 years outside of a family, which compares to once every 70 years in France.

“It is not easy in Ireland because land does not get sold very often. The average field gets sold once every 400 years outside of a family and that compares to once every 70 years in France.

“So we have an obsession with land ownership that is in many ways understandable because of our history, but it  can also be at times a straight-jacket for agriculture because it does not allow the progressive farmers to find land and expand. We are trying to work on that land availability issue while at the same time respecting and supporting  family farms.”

He said one of the key areas to do this is partnership farming  to achieve economies of scale.

“Whereby family farms can remain in-tact but they can work together with a collective of other family farms in the area to share resources, share machinery, share expertise and we will facilitate and reward that in the tax-based system,” he added.

Young farmers

In terms of young farmers, Minister Coveney confirmed the definition of a young farmer under the new Common Agriculture Reform (CAP) is, simple put, a person farming under the age of 40 years.

“In the new CAP under Pillar One we now have a mandatory requirement on all countries in the EU to positively discriminate in favour of young farmers. The definition of a young farmer in the new policy is under the age of 40 years. So when you have new farmers who are entering farming within the last three years they can get a top-up of up to 25 per cent of their single farm payment for up to five years while they are under the age of 40.”

He described this as comparing to an installation scheme. “It sends a very strong signal that we want generational change in agriculture. We want families to sit around the kitchen table and to decide to hand over the farm from a mother and father to a son or daughter so that we see a change of management and a change of ownership and perhaps a change of attitude to how the farm is run.

“What is the point in educating all of these young people in our agricultural colleges, in our universities, teaching them new ways, safe and more sustainable ways and more productive ways to farming if we cannot get them in charge of their farm.”

Only six per cent of farms owned in Ireland are people under the 35 years, the minister said.“Obviously there are much more people on farms that are under the age of 35 years. Massive amount of sons and daughters are working with their parents on their farms but we want to see ownership change so that the person making the decision on the farm is a younger person with new ideas, with better education and who is better equipped to deal with modern challenges of farming around climate change, sustainability, productivity and all those things other things. That is not to say that experienced farmers don’t understand those challenges they do. But I think we have an imbalance at the moment.

“When you have more farmers over the age of 75 than under the age of 35, when you have an ambition for growth and expansion like we have for the next 10 years, then there is something that does not quite match there.”

Minister Coveney is set to visit the National Ploughing Championships this week.