Irish agriculture “faces a difficult future” unless more young people can be encouraged to take up farming, according to Fianna Fail TD Michael Moynihan.
The TD for the Cork North West constituency believes that more young people need to be convinced that farming is a viable and sustainable career.
Deputy Moynihan was commenting on the issue after receiving information from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which shows a “dangerous age imbalance” in terms of the numbers of farmers in Ireland.
The elected representative asked the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, to provide information on the demographic of Irish farmers in a recent parliamentary question.
In response, Deputy Moynihan received information from the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO’s) 2013 Farm Structures Survey, which indicated that approximately 37,700 Irish farmers – or 27% – were over 65-years-old.
In addition, these figures also indicated that just 8,200 farmers – or 6% – were under 35-years-old.
The Cork North West TD said: “Just 6% of farmers are under the age of 35, while 53% are over the age of 55.
“These figures, taken from the 2013 CSO Farm Structures Survey, show an underlying imbalance in Irish farm profiles.
There is a major challenge coming down the tracks for Irish society to replace older generations of farmers who are due to retire in the next 10-15 years.
“If we want to have locally produced, high-quality food, then we will need younger people choosing a career in farming.
“We need to support farmers to become more productive, and therefore more viable. It’s unfair to expect farmers to earn less than what they put into their farms.”
While there are some positive programmes that provide young farmers with education and skills training, more needs to be done, according to Deputy Moynihan.
How can we ask a young farmer with a family to work for, what for all intents and purposes is, less than the minimum wage?
“Unless we find solutions to these challenges, we will see farms lying idle, and Ireland’s ability to produce its own food will be greatly diminished,” he concluded.