Challenges facing beef, dairy and tillage farmers

For years now, Macra Na Feirme has been highlighting the issue of Ireland’s ageing farming population.
Challenges facing beef, dairy and tillage farmers

In fact by 2015 the number of farmers in Ireland under 35 had dropped to under 6% of all farmers.

This was never going to be sustainable if we wanted to grow our industry.

Thankfully, this year with the introduction of the National Reserve and Young Farmer Top-Up Schemes, the Government has taken the first meaningful steps towards addressing this issue.

Going on the incredibly high uptake of these schemes it seems a very big step has been taken in terms of encouraging young people into agriculture.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First of all there hasn’t been an Installation Aid scheme since 2008 and there hasn’t been a National Reserve scheme since 2011 so numbers of young farmers waiting for a scheme to join had been building up.

Secondly, the fact that you could join an existing herd number if you satisfied the off-farm income criteria made these schemes more attractive.

Added to that the 90 hectare threshold of €250 per hectare meant for the first time, young farmers starting off could avail of a decent single farm payment.

By 2011 the previous National Reserve had been capped at €5,000.

In the old days the National Reserve scheme gave young applicant’s entitlements representing the average value of local district electoral division payment.

So effectively, you were penalised if you were farming in an area with marginal land as the average payments for that electoral division would be lower.

I remember submitting two national reserve applications in 2010 for two very similar and enthusiastic young farmers.

Unfortunately for him one of the young farmers was living in north Co Leitrim where the average district electoral division payment was very low.

While his farm was actually quite good land, his district electoral division area took in a lot of the surrounding mountain areas around him which meant he received 19 entitlements worth €106 per hectare.

The second young farmer by virtue of living in Co Westmeath received 18 entitlements worth €330 per hectare as the average value of his district electoral division payments was much higher.

This was the one serious flaw to the last National Reserve and thankfully has been removed from this new scheme as all successful applicant’s to this year’s National Reserve will receive a flat payment of €250 per hectare.

Needless to say one of the two farmers mentioned above ending up moving to Canada, you can hazard a guess as to which one.

The story does end well though as, thankfully, he is now back farming more intensively than ever and has learned from his time working abroad.

Now that one of the major stumbling blocks holding back our young farmers has been removed, the big question is: what does the future hold for these young farmers?

I know in farming just like in politics, and in fact in most things in life, timing is everything.

It is unfortunate that most of these young farmers that entered into dairying did so at a very difficult time.

As with all markets there are peaks and troughs; milk is not performing well now. All you can do except reduce scale and dry off cows and hope to ride out the storm.

The problem for a young farmer starting out is that he has no reserve to fall back on or eat into to. More seasoned dairy farmers have had time to build up some savings for these lean periods.

The only good thing for these young farmers is that years like this are a great learning curve.

Sometimes you have to suffer the hard times to appreciate the good times.

When the price of milk starts to rise again these farmers will be well tempered in so they will mind their hard earned cash.

New entrants to beef farming this year may be facing the opposite problem.

While the trade for store beef cattle has held up pretty well all year, predictions of a fall are on the horizon.

While it would be great to see the naysayers proved wrong it seldom happens.

The problem with the beef sector is the number of cattle now in the system.

If the bottom falls out of the factory price, naturally this will trickle down to the price of store cattle. Young beef farmers beware, if you made a profit last year put it away some where safe as you may need it this time next year.

The good (or bad) thing about sheep and tillage farming is that there is never a fortune to be made out of it so even on a bad year, you won’t be overly disappointed.

However, apart from the weather both sectors had reasonably good years.

The lamb trade held up fairly well and tillage men reported good yields even if prices could have been better.

With better weather for next year things should be brighter for both sectors.

My knowledge of the pig and poultry sectors is not extensive enough to offer a qualified opinion, but from my knowledge of pig and poultry farmers I know they don’t need any advice or words of wisdom from me.

Now I guess it’s a case of “let them get on with it” as only time will tell to see how our young farmers get on.

No industry can survive without bringing in new people so enjoy the good days, ride out the tough ones and if you make a little profit don’t spend it all right away.

Remember it’s a way of life, not just a career.

Raymond Gilmartin is a member of Macra’s Agricultural Affairs committee

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