Ensuring that young people have a future in farming is a critical element of the overall sustainability challenge facing Irish agriculture, well-known north Cork tillage farmer Tom Barry has claimed.

While the public debate around sustainability has invariably focused on the environment, Barry said that attracting young people into farming in sufficient numbers was equally important.

“People can talk about the environment, but the first element of sustainability is getting our youth into farming,” Barry told a rural and agri-sector forum in Mitchelstown, organised by north Cork farmer and farm representative John Magner last Friday.

Barry, who is a former Fine Gael TD, said that making sure farming paid was the only guaranteed way to attract new entrants.

Without financial sustainability, no enterprise can survive

His comments echoed those of Teagasc’s Ciarán Collins, who pointed out that the major reductions in fertiliser and pesticide usage sought by the EU’s Farm To Fork strategy posed serious difficulties for the viability of Irish tillage operations.

“Without financial sustainability, no enterprise can survive,” Collins said.

Barry called for greater co-operation between livestock and tillage farmers. He said precision usage of organic slurry had reduced the nitrogen requirement on some of his crops by 50%.

He claimed that “not a bag of fertiliser” would have to be imported by Ireland if the country’s organic slurry and sludge stocks were fully recycled.

Athy cereal grower Pat Cleary cautioned farmers against committing to anaerobic digestion (AD) agreements unless they had contracts in “black and white”.