Ifac, the agriculture accountancy service, published its 2021 farm survey this week. It is compiled from 1,700 farmer surveys carried out in a year when agriculture faced the double whammy of a global pandemic and Brexit, where our biggest trading partner left the EU single market and customs union, introducing new barriers to trade.
Despite this, 56% of farmers surveyed remain positive about farming and more than four in five expect to still be farming five years from now.
Unsurprisingly, incomes are an issue with beef farmers, while dairy farmers have the most positive outlook.
The fact that dairy farming is profitable is a major driver in the positive sentiment expressed in the survey.
It is also reflected by the fact that it is the sector where most of the survey respondents, 94%, expressed the ambition to either maintain or expand their herds over the next three years.
Despite the profitability, dairying does have issues as it is the most dependent sector on off-farm labour. The absence of a holiday for a quarter of respondents in the past three years and a wider lifestyle impact are the more negative issues for dairy farmers.
It won’t be a surprise that the ifac survey found that income pressure was the problem for nine out of 10 beef farmers and a quarter of them are unsure if they will still be farming in five years’ time.
Despite this negativity, only 15% of respondents to the survey plan to reduce stock numbers with more than a quarter actually planning to increase numbers.
Sheep farmer responses were mixed, with a quarter saying that the business provided adequate income but more than a third saying viability was their biggest concern.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from livestock farmers was the support for online mart sales, with three-quarters of beef and sheep farmers wanting them to continue even after marts reopen with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Tillage farmers surveyed presented a negative outlook for their sector.
Despite widespread adoption of technology, almost two-thirds were of the view that the farm enterprise didn’t provide sufficient income and one-third responded that it wasn’t viable.
Succession is a major current issue for Irish farmers away from the normal day-to-day challenges of managing a farm.
Even in dairy, the best-performing sector financially, one in four farmers sees the lifestyle commitment required by milking cows as a barrier to succession.
Unsurprisingly, in the beef sector where incomes have been poor, the survey finds that almost half (44%) see the issue of income for a successor as a barrier.
On tillage farms, 71% haven’t identified a successor. Farmers by nature aren’t attracted by retirement and in the survey, just 58% had any retirement plans and of these, almost one-third wanted to remain involved in the farm after they retired.
When specifically asked about succession for the survey, half of respondents had given at least some thought to succession and of these, 29% have identified a successor, while 21% have a successor in mind. That means that less than one in three farmers surveyed have a definite plan for the future of a high-value asset.
The biggest issue for farmers surveyed in making plans for succession is the viability of the farm, identified by 31% of farmers responding to the survey. This varies between sectors and the second biggest issue is the commitment required to farm, identified by 16% of respondents while on a more positive note, less than one in 10 respondents, 9%, gave lack of interest by the next generation as an issue in succession planning.
Farm inheritance can be a stressful and emotional issue for many farm families an in this regard it was particularly worrying to discover that 40% of respondents to the survey have not made a will to give clarity on a succession plan.