Farmers remain broadly positive about the future when it comes to agriculture, although many still believe the economic recovery has not directly benefited them or their families.
The survey shows that when it comes to the future of farming, 33% feel very optimistic — the same figure as last year — and 39% feel slightly optimistic, up three percentage points compared to last year’s survey findings.
Optimism levels about the future of farming are still lower than those registered in 2013, and the increase in optimism levels this time around is mainly down to tillage farmers.
In that sector, 81% are now optimistic about the future of farming, up from 68% last year.
The number of livestock/cattle farmers who feel optimistic about the future of farming rose four percentage points to 65%, while the number of dairy farmers who are optimistic about the future of farming fell four percentage points to 82%.
As for the future of farming specific to their own agricultural sector, there was also an increase in optimism compared with last year: 31% are very optimistic, up one point, and 39% are slightly optimistic, up four points.
However, optimism levels are still below those of 2013.
Again, the upturn in optimism levels is mainly due to tillage farmers — 78% feel optimistic about their sector, up 12 percentage points, while 64% of livestock/cattle farms feel optimistic about their sector, up 11 points. There was a three-point fall in the number of dairy farmers who feel optimistic about their sector, to 81%.
However, farmers are split over whether the economic recovery has had a positive impact on them and their families.
While 42% of those questioned agreed with this view, 41% disagreed, with another 17% of respondents neither disagreeing nor agreeing.
And while 16% strongly agreed that the economic recovery had raised their living standards, 19% strongly disagreed.
Those in dairy farming were most likely to agree that the economic recovery has benefited them (51%). Those with an off-farm income were also less likely to believe that the economic recovery had benefited them (39%) than those working purely on a farm (45%).
There has been a slight growth in the number of farmers wanting and anticipating a change in their holdings in 2015.
Notable changes are seen in the tillage sector, with an increase of 10 percentage points among those most likely to buy/rent in land this year (from 23% to 33%).
About 46% of dairy farmers anticipate a growth of between 10% and 30%. This is two points down on the 48% of dairy farmers anticipating growth last year.
The poll also finds that those under the age of 35 are the most likely to want to expand their farms, and that non-dairy farmers show very little interest in switching to dairy farming in 2015 — 93% say they will not.
As for the longer term, 71% of farmers say they will pass the farm on to family, made up of 66% who say they will leave it to a son or daughter, and 5% who will divide the farm between their siblings.
However, just under one in five (19%) believe they will sell up, while 3% will leave the farm to a non-family member and 7% don’t know what will happen.
ICMSA president John Comer said the current income crisis surrounding many farm families — and particularly the fall in milk prices — was a factor in how some farmers viewed the passing on of a farm to the next generation.
“It explains the relatively low figure (66%) that knows that they will pass their farm on to the next generation,” he said. “Do parents want to bequeath an occupation that involves working long hours and acquiring technical skill for a very precarious — not to say, volatile — income model to children?”
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