A HUGE step backwards was how Macra na Feirme president Catherine Buckley described the budget decisions suspending the installation aid for young farmers and the early retirement scheme.
She was speaking in the presence of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Brendan Smith at the opening of last weekend’s Macra national rally in Salthill, Galway.
Young farmers from all over the country called on the minister, who officially opened the rally, to reverse the decisions, which one speaker described as “savage and immoral”.
They accused the Government of ignoring agriculture and of effectively telling people who had left full-time jobs for agricultural education that they no longer qualified and that their parents could not retire.
In her address, Ms Buckley quoted from the National Development Plan, which stated that the importance of attracting young and trained people into farming remains a priority to the agri sector’s long-term future.
It also stated that facilitating the early retirement of older farmers and supporting younger farmers will prevent the decline in rural migration and rejuvenate the sector.
She also noted that the Programme for Government pledged to continue to offer a range of supports to young farmers entering agriculture, including education, taxation measures and direct start-up aid. Ms Buckley said the actions in the Budget were in direct opposition to these commitments.
“Pursuing a career in agriculture is not a venture entered into overnight,” she said.
“Long-term planning and stability is paramount to any decisions being taken.”
The Macra leader said that, with less than 8% of farmers in Ireland under the age of 35, a proactive approach is needed to changing the demographic of the sector. Agriculture could provide a career for young people and return a viable income. The record numbers entering agricultural colleges indicated their optimism for the industry.
Ms Buckley said the transfer of land to young farmers must be a priority for all policy makers.
All efforts must be made to encourage families to transfer holdings to young farmers at the soonest possible moment.
“We must make huge efforts to break the tradition of waiting until death knocks before farmers eventually inherit the holding they may have been farming for years.
“With this in mind, last week’s decisions haven’t made time stand still — but in fact we’ve taken a huge step backwards.”
Ms Buckley said young people entering agriculture require a guarantee of a reasonable amount of stability.
“We must allow for the farmer of the future to invest in their enterprise without fear of a goalpost change mid-match.
“Policies and decisions must be made with continuation and stability in mind. This will ensure confidence and growth in the industry and allow the young farmer to get established in their chosen enterprise.”
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