Opinion

Land rental charges in Ireland make no sense at all

Spring arrives and, as regular as clockwork, land rental charges start to take off like a rocket in Ireland.

This has been a tradition in the country for many years; one that has served only to jeopardise the margins that active farmers can make.

Dairy, beef and tillage farmers all admit that they pay too much for rented land.

But they keep on going back to the well, in the belief that they will be caught not having enough silage for the coming winter or that the weather will play ball and crops will deliver bumper yields.

Ireland’s conacre system lies at the heart of the problem.

It’s a combination of this and the fact that landowners, who do not want to farm, can still benefit from Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) through the back door.

Let me address this latter issue first. The ongoing review of the CAP has been in the news for the past number of weeks. If one puts the budgetary issue aside for a second, the other great priority for policy makers to address is that of coming up with a definition of active farmer – one which ensures that support only goes to those people actively producing food.

But the core challenge remains that of getting rid of the conacre system altogether. And there are signs that this could become the case sooner than many people think.

The current Land Mobility programme, co-ordinated by Macra na Feirme, is genuinely encouraging older landowners to agree long-term leasing arrangements with young farmers.  

There is little doubt that the tax changes introduced by the Revenue two years ago are helping to facilitate these agreements.

The added bonus coming out of all this activity is that increasing numbers of farm families are agreeing realistic succession plans in a constructive manner, rather than leaving it all to the last minute.

The average age of a farmer in this country currently stands at 58 years.

This is far too old. Or, put another way, a significant number of people are farming into their dotage. This is a crazy situation.

If nothing else, it is a distinct health and safety risk for the farming industry as a whole. Hardly a week goes by at the present time when we don’t hear about an older person being hurt or killed in a farm accident.

Anything that can be done to encourage younger people into farming must be welcomed. And it is against this backdrop that the Land Mobility programme should be gauged.