Surge in farmers seeking welfare
A RECORD number of struggling farmers have turned to the State for financial aid.
More than 10,500 farm families have been granted assistance -- the so-called 'farmers' dole' -- this year. It is the highest level since the scheme was set up in 1999, according to figures seen by the Irish Independent.
The costs of servicing the special payments have climbed from €67m in 2005 to a predicted €96m this year. It is estimated each recipient receives around €201 a week.
The average family farm income last year was €11,968, according to Teagasc.
Farms are facing huge financial pressures after a number of years of bad weather and poor returns, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) confirmed.
This year's strong harvest came on the back of "two awful years" when farm incomes plunged by 40pc, the IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley said yesterday.
Mr Turley said maintaining funding for farm schemes and investment programmes in the upcoming Budget was vital.
The farm assistance is a special low-income support available to farmers aged between 18 and 66, which was first introduced following a fodder crisis in 1998/1999. It is means tested, but is considered a more generous test than for the jobseeker's allowance. The figures from the Department of Social Protection reveal a further 510 applications from under-pressure farmers are waiting to be processed.
Before the economic crash, there had been a decline in those seeking assistance because of the supply of off-farm jobs -- particularly in construction -- available to boost incomes.
The new figures show farmers in the west of the country are more likely than those in the east to use the scheme, with high numbers of recipients in Mayo, 1,799; Donegal, 1,385; and Galway, 1,065.
Andrew Doyle, Fine Gael's spokesman on agriculture, said: "You are talking about people having incomes for the average family way below the poverty line in spite of the value of the assets. It [assistance] was always meant to be a safety valve but it has now become an income for almost 8.5pc of family farms," he warned.