Broadmore Research’s Pat Brogue is encouraging farmers to see all sides on the issue of land mobility. In an in-depth speech delivered at the Teagasc Farm Business Conference recently the agriculture and research policy expert examined key challenges in the area of land transfer.

“It’s about seeing both sides. Obviously there are young farmers who want to gain access to land, rights to produce and farm. But we have to look at the other side as well and that is respecting the ownership rights of the current land owners.

According to Brogue, balance is key to a successful outcome: “We have to balance the need to get young people into the industry with the rights of those that own the land. As we know, when it comes to land mobility it’s about obviously the economic assets of the farm. But it’s also the social, personal, emotional and psychological issues. It’s the link between a farmer and his land. How do we measure and balance that?”

The difficulty of young farmers to access land was noted. “There is a need for that youthful vigour in any industry and agriculture is no different.”

However he said land transfer can be a burden on older farmers too. “There’s concern within families if you don’t have someone to take on the farm. They ask what am I going to do? How am I going to transfer it? Who am I going to transfer it too? Should I lease out the farm, should I stop farming?

“For too long the focus has been on signing over the farm, rather than the gradual progression of land from generation to generation. People don’t see it as a process over a period of time which it is.

“If you sit back and look back at the situation from outside farming, you would say that the land is not going to disappear, it’s always going to be there, it’s always going to transfer.”

Brogue outlined some of the current realities in terms of land mobility in Ireland. “Our focus is on ownership and it is part of our history. Long-term leases and tenancies are not common .We have an ownership structure in Ireland.

“When we think of land mobility we automatically think farmer-to-son transfers one generation to the next. The reality is now that we are seeing far more transfers within families and outside families.

“There is the whole issue of transfer during the lifetime of the farmer or on his death. What we are doing here is to encourage that lifetime transfer and to ensure that the decisions are made well in advance were possible.

“If there is not a farming inheritor and there is a family. Someone in the family or all of the family is going to inherit that land. If those inheritors are not involved in farming and have no interest in farming, they are an important group in terms of what they are going to do with the land.”

Key land mobility statistics were also outlined.

“Half of our land owners are aged over 55 years. Only 6.25 per cent are aged under 35 years. Figures from the Department of Agriculture show that we had more farmers aged over 80 years than less than 35 years. And when you looking across the EU we are not that very much different.”

In terms of land ownership, Brogue said: “Between 2000 and 2010 there was a 31 per cent increase in the land owners aged over 65 and a 53 per cent decrease in those under 35. So the situation there is that it’s not improving,” he said.

In terms of long-term leasing he noted: “Only seven per cent of the land that was being rented could have availed of the long-term leasing tax relief. It’s a very small figure that’s potentially worth a lot to the people involved. How can we encourage more people to avail of it? People need to be convinced of the merits of it. There were a lot of myths out there about losing rights and entitlements that need to be addressed.”