Farmers turn to technology as pandemic increases social isolation

Just three-quarters of farmers said they will take a Covid-19 vaccine, major report shows

Dairy entrepreneur Maighread Barron on her Co Waterford farm launching Ifac’s annual farm report.

Dairy entrepreneur Maighread Barron on her Co Waterford farm launching Ifac’s annual farm report.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rise in social isolation and loss of community engagement among farmers, while a significant majority want online buying and selling in the marts to continue post-pandemic, a major report on the sector shows.

The report from accountancy firm Ifac, Growing your Future, surveyed 1,700 farmers across the country and found the role of technology in farming is increasing, but also that high numbers of farmers have no succession plans in place and are unprepared for retirement.

Seven out of eight (86 per cent) farmers said broadband is now essential, something the report said makes “the rollout of rural broadband an urgent requirement”. Separately, one in two (52 per cent) farmers said they use herd and breeding software on their farms.

In terms of farmer wellbeing, just three in four (75 per cent) said they will take the Covid-19 vaccine, while 19 per cent are unsure about it and 6 per cent are not planning to take a vaccine.

Almost a third (31 per cent) said they have not taken a holiday in the last three years or more, while three-quarters said the virus has negatively impacted on their social life, and two out of five (42 per cent) said they do not know who to contact for support.

For the third year in a row, the survey results indicated that farmers of all ages are continuing to put off succession planning. Less than a quarter (24 per cent) have identified a future successor, while 31 per cent said their farm business is not viable enough.

Some 58 per cent said they do not complete any budgets or cash flows. Of those who employ non-family farm labour, just 21 per cent have written contracts of employment in place and only 17 per cent have an employee handbook.

Wills and pensions

Less than a quarter (24 per cent) know how much they need to have in their pension to provide a €200 per week income from the age of 65. Two out of five don’t have a will in place.

One in five of those farmers who are employers said they find it difficult to find people with the right skills.

In terms of outlook, 81 per cent said they will still be farming in five years, while 12 per cent said they did not know. Three-quarters of dairy farmers had a positive outlook for their sector, but this figure was just 40 per cent across other farming sectors.

A quarter of dairy farmers said their farm is not providing sufficient income to support their family, while that figure rose to 90 per cent for beef farmers.

Some 84 per cent said they will maintain or increase herd numbers over the next three years, while just one in five said Covid-19 has negatively impacted their farm income. Elsewhere, almost all farmers expect Brexit to have an impact on the sector.

‘Stark light’

Ifac chief executive John Donoghue said the findings “shine a stark light on the community disengagement and social isolation that many farmers are feeling all across the country”.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of farming and concerns about the cost of Covid, the impact of Brexit on the wider economy, and the costs associated with tackling climate change weigh heavily on the minds of Irish farmers,” he said.

“Despite almost a third of Irish farmers saying they want to remain involved in the farm after retirement, for the third year in a row our survey shows that farmers are slow to act in relation to succession planning – something necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of rural Ireland.”