Optimism has ebbed away in farming every year since the Irish Examiner ICMSA farming opinion poll started in 2013.
And in 2016, when 526 respondents were asked about the future of farming in general, pessimism rises from 10% to 265.
Face-to-face interviews for the poll took place with the 526 farmers at agricultural shows in the second half of August, and only 60% this year said they were very optimistic or slightly optimistic, compared to 79% in 2013.
It’s a telling result, with only 10-14% of don’t knows, who said they were neither optimistic or pessimistic.
The dairy balloon seems to have been punctured, deflating from 86% optimism in 2013 to only 62% now.
But optimism has declined in every sector.
Dairy is still ahead, with nearly two out of every three dairy farmers who were interviewed still optimistic, but the overall decline in farmer confidence is stark.
Livestock/cattle farmers stay within the 58-65% range of previous years, with changing fortunes perhaps taken more stoically in a sector long used to low incomes from beef.
After 81% of tillage farmers felt optimistic last year, only 62% were of that persuasion this year (68% in 2014).
Younger farmers remain the most optimistic of all, with negativity most likely to be found among those over the age of 55.
The responses were much the same when 526 farmers were asked for their thoughts on the future of farming in their own particular enterprise sectors.
Their answers showed confidence falling among livestock/cattle farmers from last year’s 64% to 57%, and from 78% to 59% among tillage farmers.
The voice of experience is not encouraging, with only half of the farmers aged 55-64 showing any positivity about farming (however, that rises to 63% for the over-65s).
Again this year, farmers were asked what they thought of the statement that “Farming is one of the hardest ways to earn a living”.
Only 8% disagreed, compared to 15% last year.
While 83% are in agreement overall, those aged 45-54 and those working in tillage and/or livestock farming are the most likely to claim that farming is one of the hardest ways to earn a living.
Last year, smaller farmers were more inclined to this view, but now there is greater consistency (81-87%) across the acreage range.
Overall, these findings again point to declining optimism across the board in farming.
As was the case last year, younger farmers under the age of 35 remain the more likely to want to expand their farms, but their enthusiasm is now more limited than before.
When asked if they are likely to buy or rent land in the next five years, a positive answer is directly proportional to age, ranging from 39% for the under 35s to only 16% for over 65s.
Interestingly, the big change in responses to this question over the years has been in the over-65 age section.
Of the 526 farmers interviewed in August, in the over-65 age section, when asked if they are likely to buy or rent land in the next five years, 16% or one in six said yes. that compares with only 7-8% in 2013 and 2014, and 11% last year.
Overall, there has been a big slump in interest in renting in land, from a consistent 12-13% in the first three years of the survey, to only 6% now.
And interest in selling land has risen to 4% from 1-2 % in the earlier years.
This year, for the first time, farmers were asked about leasing, and 6% said they would like to lease in; 3% said they would like to lease out.
Farmers were also asked, “What do you think will happen to your family’s farm (or the farm you work on) after you?”
The big change in responses this year was the 19% in 2015 expecting the farm to be sold after them shrinking to only 4%.
Don’t knows grew from 7 to 13%, but the majority (71% now, 66% last year) still expect to leave the land to a son or daughter.
Find more on the Irish Examiner ICMSA farming survey HERE
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