Older farmers must be given their sense of place when it comes to addressing the challenge of generational change within Irish agriculture.
This was the view expressed by University of Galway academic, Dr. Shane Conway, during his presentation at the recent 2024 Ulster Grassland Society (UGS) annual conference.
His research has confirmed the key role that farmers play within all rural communities.
Dr. Conway said: “Farmers and their families remain a critically important component of rural life throughout Ireland. This fundamental point must be recognised by governments and society as a whole.
“Many farmers feel they don’t want, nor need, to retire, once they reach 65 or 66
“They feel they still have lots to offer, and this is absolutely correct. There is no substitute for experience.
“For a government simply to push ahead with a finance-heavy retirement package is not the right approach to take when it comes to dealing with the issue of farm succession.”
Conway was referring to attempts made by previous Irish governments to push ahead with farm pension schemes.
“The policy makers of the time were not deliberately setting out to marginalise older farmers at the time,” he explained.
“It was simply a case of society not being fully aware at the time of the social needs and continuing life-related goals of older farmers,” he said.
Older farmers and succession
According to Conway, future policy decisions – where generational renewal within agriculture is concerned – must focus on the needs of entire farming communities.
“The need to actively address the issue of farm succession is obvious. Currently one-third of farmers in the European are 65 years-of-age and older,” Dr. Conway added.
The University of Galway representative views greater social inclusion as being key to achieving a more structured approach to the issue generational change within agriculture.
“Policy must be developed from the farmers’ point of view,” he stressed.
Conway’s rural studies research has involved active communication with 555 farmers, all of whom are 55 years-of-age and over.
“The farmers in question all participate in Teagasc’s farm data research programme,” he said.
One of the most significant conclusions arising from Conway’s work, up to this point, is the future role of livestock marts as social hubs across the country.
Dr. Conway continued: “The success of the Farmers’ Yard project is already confirming this.
“Social interaction in later life is critically important. Marts are widely recognised by older farmers as safe places for them to be.
“It’s up to mart operators to add to this experience. The objective is to deliver a better quality of life for older farmers.
“And by taking this approach, marts can also help to justify their own existence into the future.”