President says young farmers need land

Helping young farmers to access land ‘greatest’ of all challenges in agriculture

President Michael D Higgins with Brendan Greene of Ratheniska at the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

in Ratheniska

Helping young farmers to access land is the greatest challenge facing modern agriculture, President Michael D Higgins said at the opening of the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois, yesterday.

He said Irish farming had changed “profoundly” since the championships were last held in Ratheniska in 1943, and there were many challenges facing the sector.

“Enabling young farmers to access the land they need to make a living in agriculture is the greatest of all of these challenges.

“The current age structure of Ireland’s farming population is a big issue. Only 6 per cent of Irish farmers are under the age of 35, and that is why I seek out and welcome and encourage those young people who are there.”


Mr Higgins had asked to visit the stand of young farmers' group Macra na Feirme during his tour of the 700-acre site near Stradbally.

He noted that 51.4 per cent of family farm holders were over 55 and almost 30 per cent were over 65. “Too many farmers have no designated person to whom they plan to transfer the farm. Yet at the same time many young farmers want to take up farming and they are more and better and fully qualified to do so but often they cannot find land.

"Very little farm land is sold in Ireland in any given year – less than 0.5 per cent."

The Co Laois site attracted 81,000 people on the opening day, 29,000 more than on last year's opening day. The National Ploughing Association said it hoped to attract up to 200,000 people before the event ends tomorrow evening.

Gardaí said they were very happy with traffic management.

Supt Yvonne Lundon said gardaí were directing traffic from 5.30am and cars flowed very smoothly. "We had no hold-ups. We had two minor accidents but we had them cleared very quickly."

She repeated her advice to avoid using sat-navs to access the site, and instead follow the signposted traffic routes.

A new community text alert initiative was launched at the event by An Garda Síochána, the IFA, Muintir na Tíre and Neighbourhood Watch.

The scheme will allow local gardaí to send text alerts to community leaders from the IFA, Muintir na Tíre and Neighbourhood Watch to warn of suspicious activity in the area.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said the emphasis was on preventing crime through active partnerships with communities.

Own a gun
He was asked if yesterday's ICMSA/Irish Examiner survey showing 81 per cent of farmers felt they should have a right to own a gun to protect themselves indicated people did not trust gardaí to protect them.

“I would be naive in the extreme not to believe that people out there in rural communities and isolated communities are concerned, but crime is something that we have had with us for a long, long time and unfortunately crime is something that will remain with us.”

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times