Macra president John Keane spoke in the Oireachtas on Wednesday 1 December about the importance of ensuring that there is a sustainable and viable sector for future generations to partake in.
“Young farmers play a key role in addressing the challenges that we as an industry face, but also see a huge amount of opportunity in terms of bringing the sector forward over the next number of years and into the decades beyond.”
Keane said that the breakdown of young farmers across the different enterprises over the past decades has decreased significantly.
“From 2011 to 2016, there has been a 15% decrease in the number of active young framers under the age of 35,” Keane said.
Keane also noted that the average workforce age within other sectors shows that those under the age of 35 represents almost 30%.
In that context, Macra feels that the support for young farmers from CAP and from the national envelope need to be strengthened and increased.
“If we look at the traditional barriers that have existed for young farmers over the past number of decades, whether that be access to credit, access to land, investment support or start up-aid, we see a lack of support and a lack of commitment within the guiles of the CAP strategic plan for young farmers to address those barriers that we face on an ongoing basis.”
Keane went on to say that access to finance for young farmers is a barrier that has not been addressed and is a huge limiting factor to ensure the sustainability of young farmers under the age of 35.
Delivery of the CAP
“The litmus test of this CAP period will be the number of active farmers under the age of 35 farming actively by 2027.”
Over the past 10 years, the number of farmers over the age of 55 and 65 have increased Keane added.
This, Keane said, would be rectified by a succession scheme as opposed to an early retirement scheme, which had seen issues identified with it.
“It must offer young farmers an opportunity to enter the sector while also supporting those who are exiting the sector.”
A key issue for Macra members which has spanned over a decade is the issue of the forgotten farmers, Keane said.
“[There is a] cohort of farmers who set up [an] agricultural holding before 2008, many of whom are still under the age of 40, but have low value entitlements and are also deemed ineligible for young farmers from access to a national reserve.”
According to Keane, there are approximately 3,500 farmers in this category.
He called on the Minister to rectify this issue and ensure that they are not forgotten for any longer with supports such as installation aid and young farmer top-ups.
Keane argued that the initial boost of capital for young people to establish their enterprise is so important, especially, he said, for young farmers who have a lack of collateral or a lack of security which can prove a barrier.
Macra believes there is a gap, but also an opportunity for additional measures and eco schemes to be included in the CAP proposals.
These involve increased days grazing at grass while also looking at the actions which enhance animal welfare and address issues such as anti-microbial resistance (faecal dung sampling and milk recording.
“When we compare ourselves on the latter to our average EU performance, we are less than half in terms of our antibiotic use.”
Keane said that that is something we should be proud of, but also something that we should be endeavour to improve.
Lastly, Keane said that Ireland is unique in regards to the hedgerows we grow across the country.
“A hedgerow management policy and measure is something which we have looked for that can benefit both the farmer and biodiversity.”