COMMENT: Everyone agrees on the absolute necessity of securing the future viability of all our rural communities. The question is:  how do we actually achieve this?

The real driving force behind the rural economy remains agriculture, so it makes total sense to ensure that everything is done to safeguard its ongoing well-being. And to this end Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney must step up to the plate and work to defend its interests in full during the period ahead

This coming weeks will be marked by the implementation of the detailed Common Agricultural Policy Reform regulations. This process will be fraught with difficulty for us, given the wide range of pressures on most sectors of farming at the present time.

However the reality remains that the single farm payment accounts for a very high proportion of the farm income generated in Ireland – and that’s in a good year. Protecting this crucial source of funding for ‘active farmers’ must be at the very top of the minister’s wish-list as he looks towards 2014.

Inextricably linked to all of this is the issue of farm succession and just how effectively a farm business can be passed down through the generations. The average age of a farmer in Ireland is now 58 years. This is far too old.

Our young people are either not enthused enough to follow a career in farming or it’s far too late when they are given the opportunity to actually take over the running of the family business.

Recent surveys have highlighted the fact that a high proportion of the farms Ireland will be handed on to sons or daughters as viable working businesses – at some stage! This, in itself, is good news. However, it glosses over the complicated processes that must be entered in order to effect succession.

The reality is that farming in Ireland today is suffering due to the lack of young people entering the industry. This is partly because agriculture may not appear ‘sexy’ enough.

But the other brutally honest fact is that the energy, talent and enthusiasm of young people is being killed off because they are – very probably – in their middle age years when they get the opportunity to stamp their ideas on the running of the family farm business.

I have sat in on a number of succession advisory meetings over the past number of weeks. It is obvious to me that young people are crying out for guidance on this important matter.

So the last thing they need is the implementation of new CAP measures here in Ireland that add to the level of bureaucracy and confusion in this area – as opposed to rectifying the problems that already exist. Over to you minister!