Farming is “in danger of running off a cliff edge” and dying out unless drastic action is taken to entice young people to enter the sector.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed warned that a lack of “new blood” is threatening the future of the industry as he said most dairy farmers are reaching the end of their careers while the average beef farmer is now “well over pension age”.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Creed said while the lack of “new blood in farming” is a global problem, Ireland is at particular risk due to the economic dependence on the sector.
Saying there will be serious questions over “who’s going to grow” food in the future unless drastic action is taken now, he said the crisis cannot continue to be ignored and must be addressed as soon as possible.
“It’s a huge issue,” said Mr Creed. “The requirement for new blood in farming is global, every country I’ve gone to is facing the same challenges, and I think, to be frank about it, a lot of that has got to do with, if not the lifestyle, the income from it.
“We are in danger of running off a cliff edge here in terms of the global demand for food.
“The average age for farmers in Ireland is 55-56, the average age in the beef sector and the livestock industry is probably over pension age, well over pension age.
“We’ve a growing global population, 9bn people by 2050, and the experts say we’ll need 70% more food to feed that growing population because of land abandonment and food waste and all of that, so who’s going to grow it?
“We really need to get this thing right in terms of generational renewal. It’s not a new phenomenon, but in terms of the scale we face now, we need radical new thinking there,” he said.
Mr Creed separately acknowledged there is an ongoing issue in rural Ireland where older farmers are reluctant to hand over their farms to the next generation, causing division within families and seeing younger people turning their backs on the sector.
While stressing that the Government has already introduced tax incentives and grants in recent years to address the issue, which has been repeatedly raised by the Irish Farmers’ Association, Mr Creed said there must be an acceptance that other action may be needed.
Noting the concerns of both sides of the debate, Mr Creed said a way out of the stand-offs could be to set up “partnerships” between the different generations of farmers within families, allowing young and old to have a genuine involvement in the business and ensuring both its short-term and long-term future.
“We have a lot of incentives in terms of tax returns, in terms of co-ops, but we may also need to facilitate more partnerships.
“You [an older farmer] might feel you don’t want to hand over the whole farm to your son because you’re only in your 60s or whatever or feel, Jesus, maybe the young fella isn’t ready for it yet. So partnerships are the way to go,” he said.