While 1994 saw the introduction of a farm retirement scheme in Ireland under the CAP, I do not think that it is unfair to say that the ghosts of this scheme are still haunting us to this day.

The scheme, for historical reasons that I do not intend to go into, was not a success. Indeed, it singularly failed to remedy the age imbalance in Irish agriculture.

Since the inception and closing of this scheme, the age disparity has only worsened in Irish agriculture since.

Anyone who follows Macra is more than aware of the main statistic that we cite; namely, that only 6.9% of farmers are under the age of 35, whilst 33% are over the age of 65.

Due to the previous experience of an early retirement scheme in Irish agriculture, the political memory is such that retirement in agriculture appears to be seen as “bad”, and any attempt to bring in any agricultural scheme that has any aspect of retirement in it must consequently be bad – and avoided at all costs.

The pilot scheme that Macra put forward for consideration to the Government was not a retirement scheme; yes, there was a retirement element to the scheme, but it was not a retirement scheme.

For fear of being misunderstood, over the coming months, I will continue to state this: that our scheme was not a retirement scheme.

But having established what it was not, then what was it?

Pilot scheme

It was a scheme to address an imbalance that has always been there and that has been accepted as the norm.

Dare I say it, the traditional method of passing on a farm from one generation to the next is by way of partnership (formal or informal) between the farmer and the successor; eventually, the reins are handed over to the “young” man or woman who takes over the running of the farm.

Once upon a time, that worked, as there was always a queue of people hoping to get the farm; this is no longer the case now.

An imbalance that has always been there and that has been accepted as the norm

This is best exemplified by the IFAC 2023 annual farm report, which found that 64% of farmers surveyed did not have a successor identified. It also discovered that 90% of farmers have little or no understanding of the Fair Deal Nursing Home scheme.

That is research-based evidence. Looking at it closer to home, one of Macra’s vice-presidents, Rob Lally from Mayo, is the only one of approximately 40 children and grandchildren willing to take over his family’s beef holding. Rob’s situation is not unique.

To say this is a sustainable model going forward shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues facing Irish agriculture.

Elaine Houlihan

Macra national president

2023 - 2025