Farm payments keeping older farmers on the land, conference told

Pride and fear and ‘wall of money’ cited as factors

A “wall of money” is stopping older farmers from passing land to younger people, UCD’s professor of agriculture and food economics Alan Renwick told a young farmers’ conference at the weekend.

He said the EU single-farm payment scheme, coupled with tax rules, social norms and culture, meant that any policy encouraging the movement of land from older to younger farmers was always likely to fail.

"It's the elephant in the room because the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] is keeping a lot of these older farmers on the land and actually once you are in that club, you've got the support and it's quite attractive to keep [the land] and I think that's part of the problem," Prof Renwick said.

“It’s the thing people don’t want to talk about. If you didn’t have that single payment scheme I think we would have much more land mobility going on here,” he said. Measures to help young farmers get established were not “tackling that wall of money that’s keeping people in farming”.


Prof Renwick was addressing Macra na Feirme's agricultural conference held during its annual rally in Carlow. The most-cited problem facing young farmers is getting access to land to farm. There are more farmers over the age of 80 than under 35 in this State and Macra na Feirme recently appointed a land mobility programme manager to help address the issue.

'Pride and fear'
Mike Brady, president of the Agricultural Contractors' Association, said "pride and fear" were the two emotions stopping older farmers from passing on their land. He said examples of partnerships between older and younger farmers should be highlighted so that older farmers would begin to consider them.

Fine Gael MEP Maireád McGuinness encouraged young farmers to embrace the environment debate and be lobbyists for the environment, rather than leaving it to non-governmental organisations. "I think you have made a mistake generally in the farm lobby by not being pro-active," she said. "It does not do your industry any disservice to be a lobbyist for the environment . . . you're in the driving seat."

Prof Renwick said debate on the Common Agricultural Policy in Britain was dominated by very powerful environmental groups and farmers had lost control of it. “But you can seize that debate now and engage in it,” he told the young farmers.

Ms McGuinness said there should be a more strategic analysis of the farm policy, rather than seeing it as "taxpayers giving money to farmers". If the farm payments made under the policy stopped, the knock-on shock effect on the economy would be "enormous", she said.

Land use audit
Meanwhile, president of the young farmers' group Kieran O'Dowd called for a nationwide land use audit to see who was using land and how they were using it.

He also urged Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to introduce a new installation aid scheme which would help young farmers to get established. Mr O'Dowd said there was a provision for such a scheme in the reformed Common Agricultural Policy and the EU was willing to co-finance it.

More than 2,500 young people took part in Macra na Feirme events during the three-day rally which ended in Carlow last night.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times