Despite the presumption among some that farmers might express reactionary viewpoints, it is striking this year to see substantial components of the farming sample in favour of progressive social change.
Just as in the 2014 survey, which suggested that farmers were as strongly in favour of equality (and gay marriage) as most of the population ultimately proved to be, we see the 2015 farmers poll indicating that the farming community is ready for a gay Taoiseach.
Indeed, farmers would also support potential constitutional change to amend the abortion legislation, which is generally perceived as being out of step with current social mores.
Interestingly, and possibly at variance with the population at large, we see a substantial proportion of farmers continue to attend mass on a weekly basis.
Despite this, we note that farming attitudes in respect of what were once judged moral or even religious themes, are now quite divergent from acknowledged religious practice.
Like so many others in society, it would appear members of the farming community are no longer taking their cues on moral issues from the church, but are making up their minds, influenced by what they see and hear in their own communities every day.
The other noteworthy facet that strikes us as observers of social change, is the continuing shift amongst the farming community towards one or both in a family having a second, off-farm, occupation.
At one stage, farmer’s wives would have stood out by virtue of their tendency not to work outside the home, with many often having larger families. If involved in work, they tended to confine it to farm affairs.
Now, with farmers as much as everybody else recognising the importance of making ends meet, we see many more farm spouses in particular opting to have a second career away from the family farm.
An inevitable dividend is the probability of exposure to attitudes and points of view in the workplace which are likely to fuel and propel social change in the farming community.
The Celtic Tiger was principally fuelled by the social and economic dividend from women opting to work after marriage, and bringing a second income into their homes.
A similar dynamic in the farm-based community is evidently propelling faster shifts in social attitudes within the farming community that might have been predicted.
Other survey findings
Compared to last year’s poll, the number of farmers with a job off the farm has grown from 28% to 36% over the past year.
Broad optimism in relation to farming is on the rise.
In the event of there being an election most farmers would be influenced by agricultural policies, although hospital waiting lists remain a significant topic as well. Party support is broadly reflective of that seen last year, with Fine Gael remaining strong and Fianna Fail having dropped under 20%. Sinn Fein has halved to 4%, while independents have grown to one in eight. When farmers are asked to nominate a candidate for Taoiseach, Enda Kenny tops the list at 36%, followed by Michael Martin at 19%.
Interestingly, three-quarters of farm dwelling adults are in favour of the recognition of pre-nuptial agreements, while as many as two-thirds would favour constitutional change to facilitate abortion in certain circumstances.
The vast majority of farmers indicate that they don’t have an issue with the water charges.
The decline of local rural infrastructure and the shift to off-farm working are noteworthy.
There is significant resentment of publication of farmers’ direct EU payments, and a substantial majority view that the Department of Agriculture is too strict in implementation of EU legislation.
Most are firmly opposed to cutting production to address issues around global warming.
About one in five is concerned to some extent about their level of farm debt.
Looking at new agriculture schemes, the basic payment scheme has received the broadest approval, and most of the schemes attract more positive than negative comment.
Nonetheless the proportion unable to express an opinion is quite high.
In dairying. there is a broad view that they will probably be supplying the same dairy in five year’s time; the vast majority seem broadly happy with their co-op’s milk supply agreement.
The prospect of a co-op becoming part of a larger group attracts more criticism than encouragement.
There is marginal growth in the number of farmers who would like to buy land in the next few years; but the vast majority don’t see any change in the existing structure of their farms.
Ultimately, two in three farmers imagine that they will probably leave the family farm to a son or daughter. Nonetheless, one in five predict the farm will eventually be sold.
Broadly speaking, dairy farmers intend to increase their production, although about a third suggest that they won’t make any change. And just 5% of non-dairy farmers might be tempted to enter the sector.
In beef, most would like to see live exports grow.
Almost two in three farm dwellers have lost local services in recent years, with a quarter seeing their local Gardai station closing, and a quarter each a shop or pub.
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