Farming survey: Succession and the next generation still posing issues for farmers

THERE has been a slight increase in the number of farmers who are unsure what will happen to their land in future.

Farming survey: Succession and the next generation still posing issues for farmers

It is just one of the findings from this year’s Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll, which canvassed the views of 569 farmers or rural dwellers over the course of a fortnight last month.

The poll of 461 men and 108 women was carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes, with people questioned at agricultural shows in Tullamore, Cappamore, Virginia, Iverk, Limerick, Dualla, Claregalway, and Tullow.

The poll, now in its fifth year, shows 82% of respondents were farmers, 9% were spouses who also worked on the farm, with another 7% farm labourers.

Of those polled, 70% said their main activity was livestock cattle, with a total of 81% of respondents saying they had some involvement in the sector. The comparable figures for dairy were lower — 22% said their main activity was dairy, with another 4% saying they were also involved in dairy.

A smaller percentage of respondents were involved in other sectors such as tillage, poultry, and horticulture.

The poll also shows a mid-life focus on dairying, peaking at 31% of all 35 to 44-year-olds. Despite its greater prevalence across all age groups, livestock is marginally more likely to be the focus of those at either end of the age spectrum — those aged under 34, and those aged over 55.

As for non-agricultural earnings, the poll shows a continuation of a pattern established in recent years. Just under half continue to have off-farm income, either through the farmer or, more likely, the spouse having another job. The figures are broadly similar to those in polls over the past three years, and again show that those working in dairy are much less likely to have off-farm income compared with farm families in other sectors, particularly livestock (36%) and other types of farming that do not include tillage (44%). Off-farm working is much more common among younger farm families.

The poll results show an older age profile than in recent years, with 69% aged 45 and over, including 23% aged 65 and over. Reflecting this, 76% of respondents did not have a child aged 15 or under at home — the highest such figure across all five years of the poll.

There was also a slight reduction in farm size and livestock over the past three years. The average number of livestock in this poll was 79, down from 91 a year ago. The average farm size among respondents in this year’s poll is 104 acres, whereas two years ago it was as high as 120 acres.

One question which continues to engage farming families is succession planning. This year’s poll results show similar findings to those of a year ago, with 70% stating they will leave the farm to a son or daughter, marginally down on last year’s result.

One tenth of respondents said they will leave the land to an extended family member, the same as last year, and just 4% say they will sell up, also the same result as a year ago.

However, 16% said they did not know what would happen at this point, up

from 13% in 2016.

On the issue of succession, ICMSA president John Comer said: “The percentage showing a desire to leave the farm to a son or daughter shows the traditional urge to ‘pass on’ to the next generation is alive and well but there are specific problems around the age profiles of our farmers and getting the next generation of Irish farmers into position.

“ICMSA’s view on the question of freeing-up land has not changed and that is that there must be incentives offered to both sides of the equation, so that along with the young-farmer schemes we will need to see a properly funded ‘early retirement’ type scheme in the CAP post-2020.

“The emphasis so far had been on the ‘coming’ side of the handover with not enough attention being placed on the ‘going’ generation. This is the missing link and the lack of attention to this aspect means that the generational changeover is bitty and never achieves the momentum needed; there needs to be an exit strategy for the older farmers in their late 50s and early 60s and until there is we’re not going to see that generational renewal that we all agree is required.”

Kevin Hanrahan, an economist with Teagasc, said: “The long-term vitality of rural Ireland is not going to be only contingent on the long-term vitality of agriculture — other things are likely to be as, if not more, important.

“Good infrastructure — roads, broadband, water, etc — good schools, employment opportunities in towns and cities other than those clustered around Dublin will be particularly important for rural Ireland.”

Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll

The Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll was designed to provide a robust and accurate snapshot of the attitudes, beliefs and opinions of the farming community about a range of issues, both farming and social. The survey involved 569 interviews with farm dwelling adults in the Republic of Ireland.

Fieldwork was completed by Behaviour & Attitudes over a two-week period between August 13 and 27, with interviewing undertaken onsite by Behaviour & Attitudes interviewers across eight agricultural shows. The sample size is large and the data has a statistical margin of error of +/-4%.

The sampling approach involves a random probability method, with interviews being undertaken with attendees provided they worked and/or lived on a farm. 429 interviews were with farmers themselves, 31 with non family, farm employees, and the balance with spouses (66), most of whom -5 out of 6- personally work on the family farm as well.

All data is copyrighted by the Irish Examiner and Behaviour & Attitudes and should be attributed to this source where quoted.

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