Farmers face up to thorny issue of third-level grants
“There might be plenty of farm families with assets of a high value but they’re not making more than €40,000 per year. In actual fact, a lot of families wouldn’t be earning anywhere near that.
“So I would ask publicly where the department got their figures from. They claim theyre from Teagasc, but Teagasc is saying otherwise.”
The 2011 Teagasc National Farm Survey showed that average family farm income in that year was approximately €24,461, the highest it had been for some time. However, farm-related income is known to fluctuate year on year depending on various circumstances.
Restrictions on grants
The president of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), John Comer, has stated that his association will contact every TD within the week “registering farmers’ rejection of the fundamental iniquity at the heart of Minister Quinn’s proposed changes to the system of third-level grants”.
Comer stated that a farm was, as he put it “nothing more than the tool by which a farmer earned his income”.
“A farmer working a 75-acre farm every day could barely make the average industrial wage and indeed, as was the case as recently as 2009, might work all year for absolutely nothing,” he says. “In 2009 you could have farmed 500 acres and still have ended up with no net income at all.”
Those working in third-level education do not see the logic of the proposed means testing changes either.
“Personally and from my students perspective, it seems like a ludicrous proposal, explains Dr Tony Woodcock, agricultural course leader at the Department of Chemical Life Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
“I can’t understand it. Agriculture is a different animal to other industries. There’s no real link between the value of an asset and the income accrued from it. The value of land in these calculations is overly inflated related to how much money you could actually earn from it in a year.”
Woodcock believes more restrictions on grants in this area is counter productive, given that the government are promoting Food Harvest 2020 – an initiative to endorse and prioritise agri-food and fisheries in Ireland over the next decade – on the one hand, and proposing cuts to grants which would directly affect uptake of agricultural college courses on the other.
“If the Government are serious about Food Harvest 2020, they need to bring as many young, trained, vibrant people into agriculture,” he says. “The age profile of farmers is very worrying. So many are over the age of 65, and there are very few under 35 coming up.”