A pilot project matching farmers who need land with farmers who are not using the land has been inundated with queries and has matched three times more farmers than expected.
Led by Macra na Feirme, the land mobility service works with farmers to see if arrangements such as partnerships, share farming and long leases would suit both parties.
Macra na Feirme president Kieran O’Dowd said the project had exceeded all expectations and would have to be extended nationwide. In its first 10 months, it set up 53 arrangements , far ahead of its target of 18.
The reluctance of many older farmers to give up land means access to land is a major obstacle for young farmers trying to get established. Only 6 per cent of farmers are under 35, while 26 per cent are over 65. Many older farmers have not identified a successor.
Mr O’Dowd said the service was not “a land grab” and was not about young farmers trying to take land from older farmers. But he said encouraging collaborative arrangements could be the key to meeting increased production targets while addressing the age imbalance.
Launching the first annual report from the land mobility service, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said Ireland was unique in its attachment to land.
“Unfortunately in Ireland, agricultural land prices in Ireland are actually the highest in the world,” he said.
“And that is because we have a relationship with land ownership which means the average field in Ireland is sold outside the family once every 400 years. In France it’s 70. In New Zealand, I’d say it’s closer to 20 or 30. So to respond to an Irish mindset . . . we need Irish solutions.”
Land mobility programme manager Austin Finn said more than 400 farmers had already contacted the service. “It’s going to balloon with the ending of quotas and new farm payment regime,” he said.
Mr Finn said he had expected that more younger, rather than older, farmers would be contacting the service, but there had been a phenomenal response from land owners, who accounted for 43 per cent of queries.
One in three calls came from young farmers while one in four came from farmers wishing to expand.
The project is supported by farming organisations, FBD Trust and dairy co-ops Aurivo, Dairygold and Glanbia.
Chairman of the advisory committee Michael McBennett said his two sons were farming and he no longer owned any land “so I’ve practised what I preached,” he said.
“Get out and leave them at it. But I still interfere, I might add.”
He said farmers were paying crazy prices for conacare (short-term leasing) and it could not continue.
Some 40,000 farmers lease land in conacre arrangements but the short leases hamper farmers who want to plan ahead so the new service is encouraging the setting up of long term leases.