Disinterest in diversification means missing chance to create rural jobs

Only 2% of farmers are interested in setting up a diversified farm-based business, according to a survey by Teagasc.

Most diversified Irish farm businesses are tourism- related. In the UK, 31% of farms operate a diversified business. However, the proportion of diversified farm businesses per 1,000 households is still higher in Ireland than in the UK.

The research were presented by David Meredith of Teagasc to the National Rural Development Conference in Enfield, Co Meath, yesterday. The conference, Maximising the Use of Rural Resources, was hosted by the National Rural Network and Teagasc and run in association with the Local Development Network, Macra na Feirme, and the Western Development Commission.

Teagasc interviewed 472 Irish farmers. When asked about their preferred development strategy, 38% said their preferred option was to develop and expand their farming business, while 58% expressed a preference for combining farm work with an off-farm job.

Dr Meredith said: “The research indicates that the interest and desire to increase scale and output in farming is predominantly within the dairying and tillage sectors.

“Three out of every five farmers, mainly involved in beef and sheep production, felt their farm business is not capable of delivering sufficient income to support the farm household. Also, almost three-quarters of all farmers surveyed felt future opportunities for off-farm employment will be limited.”

Dr Meredith added that, under the National Rural Development Programme, there is grant aid of €16m to support farm diversification and create rural jobs. To date, there are 365 applications for projects involving €18.5m investment and potential grant-aid of €10m. Up to the end of 2011, grant aid of almost €3m was awarded to 113 projects, supporting the creation of 116 full-time job equivalents.

“The limited success of farm diversification measures over almost two decades to encourage more farm households to develop alternative farm enterprises demonstrates the importance of understanding the response of farmers to policy measures,” said Dr Meredith.

Dr Pat Bogue, of the National Rural Network, said the absence of off-farm jobs was a problem for tens of thousands of farm families.

Dr Bogue said: “There is a perception and fear among farm families that diversification must be something totally new or different, but we see many examples of new income earning opportunities which involved new approaches to core products.”

Dr Pat Bogue said the National Rural Network is starting a project, “Encouraging Enterprise at Farm Level Post 2013”, which will examine how farm families can be enticed to use their farm and family resources in new ways.

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