Education is key for farmer development

Seán Finan, president, Macra na Feirme.

In Macra na Feirme, we have just concluded five Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 consultations with more than 600 young farmers across the country.

It was a very affirmative and meaningful exercise. We heard at first hand the views of young farmers and they got the opportunity to shape a policy which will play a significant role in influencing our farming futures.

Macra na Feirme is the first organisation to undertake such an extensive and broad member consultation which is very timely considering the EU Commission has just launched its own consultation on CAP 2020 last week.

It will come as a surprise to a lot of farmers that we are even thinking about CAP post-2020 given there are still implementation issues here in terms of the current programme.

For a year now, talks have been taking place on CAP post-2020 in Brussels through the European Council of young farmers (CEJA).

Macra na Feirme, supported by IFAC accountants, has been an active and vocal participants in all the events and working groups of CEJA. This European involvement was very significant and influential in securing young farmer measures as part of the current CAP and we hope to have the same level of influence on the new policy on behalf of young Irish farmers.

The feedback provides lots of food for thought for our Agricultural Affairs committee, which is now tasked with crafting a policy that will be all inclusive and represent the views of all young farmers.

The main deliberations at the consultations centred on the active farmer definition, the actual distribution of direct payments, financial instruments and the environmental challenges. It was heartening to see the enormous significance and value young farmers place on receiving an agricultural education prior to commencing their careers in farming.

At the consultations, over 90% of young farmers surveyed were in favour of completing agricultural education in order to receive a direct payment.

Since our foundation in 1944, young farmer education has been a cornerstone of Macra na Feirme and we have worked with industry and government throughout our history to continuously improve the livelihoods of young farmers via education and training.

We continue to work with Teagasc as the main provider of agricultural education for the continued enhancement of the educational experience for young farmers. We have made a submission to the Teagasc Strategic Vision project which will set out a strategy for the development of agricultural education.

We are heartened that the value of education is so well respected and valued by young farmers, as is evident in the results of our survey.

The value of agricultural education has been questioned recently by some. Our organisation and our young farmer membership will not tolerate attempts to undermine the professionalism of farming by devaluing agricultural education.

Farmers young and old are the fulcrum of a secure food supply and require constant upskilling so they can deliver safe quality food to satisfy the needs of the consumer.

The fundamental principal of upskilling and knowledge transfer is something that I, as National President of Macra na Feirme, and the organisation has promoted and encouraged at all times.

This is very important for the continuous upskilling and development of all farmers. Valuable research has been completed by Teagasc. There are many interesting research projects ongoing in a variety of areas. The challenge is to find a way to disseminate this vital research and information in an easily understandable manner for the farmer.

Knowledge transfer and adoption of modern technologies at farm level results in improved sustainability and efficiency at farm level. This in turn increases farm profitability as has been demonstrated through the Bord Bia Origin Green programme.

Farm efficiency can partly cushion us from the effects of the external challenges beyond the farmgate, such as Brexit and climate change.

It is disappointing when I hear the approach of some young farmers and young-at-heart farmers to the Rural Development Programme knowledge transfer (KT) measures. The KT measure compensates farmers for the time they spend at KT meetings and events. Too many farmers look at the scheme from the point of view of the money they receive for taking part. Some farmers don’t factor in the value of the knowledge gained. If the knowledge gained was adopted, it can improve farm profitability by a multiplier of the money received for participation.

Macra na Feirme also promotes the continued professional development of young farmers through targeted practical training courses through our Young Farmer Skillnet programme. There are a wide variety of courses available and full details are available on the Macra na Feirme website

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