Noel Baker looks at what the Irish Examiner ICMSA Farming Poll 2016 tells us about farmers incomes and sentiment in terms of the 'recovery'.
The recovery does not appear to have spread to rural Ireland with 40% of respondents in the Irish Examiner opinion poll claiming they do not believe the economic recovery has benefitted them or their family, compared to 37% who said it had.
There appeared to be no difference in opinion between those with an off-farm income and those without, but younger farmers were more likely to state that the recovery had helped them — 47% of those aged under 34 said they had benefitted, and the corresponding figure for those aged 35 to 44 was 42%, versus 26% of those aged 55 to 64.
When it came to farming issues, 83% of farmers said the profession was one of the hardest ways to earning a living, with this view most prevalent among the 45 to 54 years age group at 87%, and among tillage (92%) and livestock farmers (85%).
They also had an issue with the implementation of EU legislation, with 78% of respondents claiming the Department of Agriculture was too strict in this regard. The percentage of farmers who held this opinion rose through the generations, with 80% of farmers aged 55 to 64 holding this view.
Feelings of uncertainty over the future might also be a factor in the fall in the number of farmers who said they planned on either buying or renting land in the near future.
While 21% said they were likely to buy land — up from 18% last year — just 3% said they would be renting, compared with 11% in 2015. Only a small percentage of farmers in the survey said they were likely to exit farming, 4%, although that is double the comparable percentage for last year.
Likewise, just 2% plan on selling land, up from 1% last year. When it comes to the likelihood of buying or renting land in the next five years, the biggest contraction is among the 35 to 54 group. Other issues did not seem to have such a bearing on positivity levels. For example, 32% agreed that farmers should cut back production to reduce global warming, while 24% of respondents said their level of farm debt was too high.
Perhaps unexpectedly, older farmers are more likely to back a drop in production to help reduce emissions compared with younger farmers.
Regarding levels of farm debt, farmers in the 45 to 54 age group again appeared the most stressed, with more than one-third of respondents in that age bracket claiming their level of farm debt was too high.
More than half of farmers (52%) do not have any form of off-farm income — a larger percentage than in the last two years. Just over a fifth of respondents said the farmer had an off-farm job, while in 30% of cases it was the spouse who worked off-farm.
Dairy farmers are the least likely to work away from the farm —just 18% of respondents involved in dairy said they had an off-farm income, whereas the equivalent figure among livestock farmers was double that, at 36%.
Younger and middle-aged farm families are more likely to have an off-farm job — 54% of households aged under 35 had at least one member working off-farm, and this rose to 65% of those in the 35-44 age group, while 55% of the 45-54 age group also had at least one off-farm income.
ICMSA president John Comer said: “The decline in the overall number of farmers who have off-farm income is probably the clearest indication and validation of that survey finding that showed that some 40% of farmers believed that the economic recovery had not benefitted them or their family.
“The kinds of occupations from which most farmers would have earned off-farm income, like rural building, etc, have still not shown any resurgence, certainly in rural districts that would have made it possible for farmers to work and run their farms.
“In terms of the dairy farmers, where we have just 18% stating that they have off-farm income, that merely shows the sheer size of the workload dairying demands as well as the intensive time commitments.
“It’s not feasible for the average dairy farmers to consider off-farm income —even if suitable work was available locally — because the demands of dairying effectively make it not just a full-time occupation but the kind of occupation where an average dairy farmers might work in excess of 90 hours per week in March or April.”
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