Farmers who have the best of both worlds
But it gives those with a love of the land the chance to pursue their passion. Sometimes there is very little financial return for low-margin farm work, but it can be a nice earner when prices are good.
Dairy farming is least suitable to part-time work because of morning and evening milking. But some farmers have developed enterprises on site, especially cheese makers such as the award-winning Cashel Blue.
There are downsides to having such large numbers of part-timers. Some of the blame for the increase in farm accidents is said to be down to part-time farming.
Farm animals have become less accustomed to being in the company of humans as their owners were away at work.
As a result, livestock occasionally become agitated and attack people near them.
Part-time farming has slowed down the infamous “flight from the land” and has facilitated the preservation of rural communities. Stories are told of some families who did sell up and move into towns only to regret their decision.
But between 2000 and 2010, the number of farms fell by just over 1 per cent to 139,829. Because so few farms have come on the market, it has inhibited the expansion of farmers attempting to scale-up.
The State farm body Teagasc say there is evidence that off-farm income is being invested in farm businesses to improve facilities and to purchase machinery. That gives them an advantage over full-time farmers who may not have the money to buy the latest equipment.
About half the IFA membership is part-time. When it comes to bargaining, the IFA insists it represents part-timers with equal vigour in negotiations with the EU, government, retailers and food companies.
Part-time farming will remain a constituent of Irish agriculture into the future. For the farm families involved, it means they’ll continue to have a stable outside income, in addition to whatever they can earn for their produce in the marketplace – as well as their regular “cheque in the post” from the EU.
They have the best of both worlds. They have a regular job and don’t have the anxiety of surviving on an unpredictable single income like their full-time counterparts.
Yet they also have the pleasure of continuing to work in the countryside, and the real possibility over the next few years of sharing in the ambitious growth in farm and food output targeted in the Government’s Harvest 2020 report.
Joe O’Brien is a former RTÉ agriculture correspondent