More than 70% of farmers surveyed by agri finance firm Ifac said they would like to see buying and selling of cattle and sheep continue online even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The increasing role of technology in farming is evident, according to Ifac's annual farm report.

It says that its survey shows the true impact of COVID-19 on the farming community, from the accelerated adoption of technology on the farm, to the rise in social isolation and loss of community engagement.

Seven out of eight (86%) farmers say broadband is now essential, making the rollout of rural broadband an urgent requirement across the country for business tasks including banking. One in two (52%) farmers use herd and breeding software on their farms.

Vaccine uptake

When it comes to farmer wellbeing, three in four (75%) say they will take the COVID-19 vaccine (with 19% unsure and 6% not planning to take a vaccine).

Almost a third (31%) of farmers risk burnout by not taking a holiday (for at least a week) in the last three years or more.

Three in four farmers say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their social life, and two out of five (42%) say they don’t know who to call for support.

Farm succession

The survey reiterates the taboo around the transfer of the family farm.

For the third year in a row, the survey results indicate that farmers of all ages are continuing to put off succession planning.

Less than a quarter (24%) have identified a future successor, with almost one in three (31%) saying their farm business is not viable enough.

Some 40% of all farmers surveyed don’t have a will in place.

Additionally, three out of five (58%) don’t complete any budgets or cash flows; of those who employ non-family farm labour, only 21% have written contracts of employment in place and only 17% have an employee handbook.

Ifac also found that less than a quarter (24%) know how much they need to have in their pension to provide a €200 per week income from the age of 65.

Farm incomes

There is a wide range of confidence among farmers in their individual sectors.

While three out of four dairy farmers have a positive outlook for their sector, only two in five farmers have a positive outlook in other farming sectors.

Ninety percent of beef farmers surveyed believe their farm isn’t providing sufficient income to support their family.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said that the Ifac report highlighted some of the key issues facing Irish farmers.

“Despite farmers coping with many issues in 2020 from Brexit, ongoing CAP reform, the global pandemic and climate change, it is heartening to see almost three out of five farmers have a positive outlook on the sector and how technology is playing an increasing role on Irish farms, something that is supported in the Government’s ongoing plans for a balanced rural development,” he said.

“On climate change and land use, our farmers have already shown great leadership in this area and are actively contributing to the national effort to address our shared climate challenge. I am confident they will continue to do this,” he said, adding that it is the Government’s key priority to ensure the transition to the next CAP runs smoothly and that farmers can continue to access current schemes this year without interruption.

John Donoghue, Ifac chief executive, said that while less than a quarter of farmers say the pandemic has negatively impacted their farm income, and some have even been able to diversify their revenue streams during COVID, “the findings also shine a stark light on the community disengagement and social isolation that many farmers are feeling all across the country.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of farming and concerns about the cost of COVID, the impact of Brexit on the wider economy, and the costs associated with tackling climate change weigh heavily on the minds of Irish farmers,” he added.