Succession stakes worry for the future of farming
OPINION:Uncertainty over inheritance means land not being used to its full potential
Almost half of Irish farmers aged over 50 years do not have a farming successor and the majority of them have no worries about succession or the future of their farms. So states a report launched recently by Macra na Feirme.
Why should policymakers, farm organisations or the general public be concerned? Many would think that there should not be any concern – farm land was here before us and will remain after us and someone will always place a value on it and do something with it. Sure who would turn down the potential of inheriting a farm worth a fortune?
However, the laissez-faire attitude of “someone will do something with it” should be a concern for us because farm land is a valuable national asset and its value to the wider public and economy may have increased since the decline in prosperity.
The Government’s Harvest 2020 strategy sets ambitious targets of a 50 per cent increase in milk production and a 40 per cent increase in the value of beef output. The targets will only be achieved by maximising the potential of the land and farmers in a manner which minimises negative environmental impacts.
One of the biggest threats to Harvest 2020 is the ageing profile of Irish farmers. In 2010, more than half of our farmers were aged over 55 – these farmers will be aged 65 when it comes to Harvest time. Will they have the energy, enthusiasm and strength to reap the harvest on our behalf?
Undoubtedly, many of them will be fit and healthy and on the top of their game in terms of production as much of our mature population is today, but the industry does need an injection of new blood to carry us across the line. There are over four times more farmers aged over 65 than there is aged under 35 (26 per cent of the farmers in the country are over the retirement age).
So, you may ask, is this a case of the old farmers holding on to the farm until they are called to tend the pastures beyond the clouds? Yes and no is the answer. Some are eager to hold onto the land until the day they die, the land that has been within the family for generations and land that has been nurtured by the sweat of their forefathers. Others have encouraged and supported sons and daughters to work the family farm and entered partnership arrangements or transferred the farm asset to the next generation.