While overall levels of optimism have rebounded this year to the same extent as two years ago, at 72%, just 20% said they were very optimistic versus 52% who said they were slightly optimistic.
Five years ago, 38% of farmers polled said they were very optimistic about the future. Nevertheless, almost three quarters of those polled this year expressed some level of optimism, versus 15% who expressed any pessimism.
When it came to the views of farmers regarding their own agricultural sector the poll results tell a similar story — another decline in the percentage of farmers who say they are very optimistic (19%), but a growth in the number who said they were slightly optimistic (54%). Just 16% said they were in any way pessimistic about their own section of the industry. Just as with the question on the future of farming, this was the lowest level of pessimism expressed since the 2013 poll.
When it came to levels of positivity about farming and sections within it, younger farmers were more likely to express optimism, whereas levels of pessimism grew with age. So, while 82% of those aged under 34 said they were positive about the future and just 7% expressed any negativity, 68% of those aged over 65 expressed some level of positivity and 22% expressed a negative view.
As for the regions, and notwithstanding the fact that people may travel considerable distances to attend certain agricultural shows, those attending Tullamore, Limerick, and Dualla shows expressed the highest levels of optimism about the future of farming and the sectors within it, while optimism was more muted at Iverk, Virginia, and Claregalway shows.
Just 7% of respondents strongly agreed their level of farm debt was too high and just 14% slightly agreed their level of farm debt was excessive. That is a fall of three percentage points compared to last year’s poll. Those aged 35 to 64 were most likely to have debt concerns, with the highest level among those in the 35 to 44 age bracket.
It was also more likely to be a feature for those in dairy and non-livestock or non-tillage sectors of farming, but the overall picture is positive, with 35% stating they strongly disagreed with the idea that their farm debt was too high and another 26% slightly disagreeing.
ICMSA president John Comer said it was “significant that the numbers saying they are ‘very optimistic’ have fallen overall with more now coming back to ‘slightly optimistic’.”
He said this was linked to a recovery in confidence evident in dairying after the turnaround in milk price that coincided with the EU’s acceptance of the ICMSA and EMB policy of a Voluntary Supply Reduction Scheme, while the “noticeable uptick in live exports is also encouraging”. However, he said pessimism can be attributed to “two huge problems” — price volatility and debt.
“Just a few weeks ago a good deal of media and public attention focused on figures published by Teagasc projecting a 2017 average income for dairy farmers of in excess of €70,000, but we know that outstanding debts from the 2015/16 price collapse still need to be paid and money needs to be put back into farms,” he said.
“We must also emphasise to the more excitable commentators that tax, drawings and bank repayments must come out of this, so this kind of income figure will not be the reality for the vast majority of dairy farmers with averages hiding the true picture for many.
“For instance, the latest 2015 National Farm Survey highlights the fact that 63% of dairy farmers have an average debt over €100,000 — much greater than other sectors within the industry.
“Farm debt is a real and growing phenomenon that reaches across every sector of farming — and emphatically includes dairying.”