Mike Brady: The CAP proposal that could have a seismic effect on Irish farming


Mike Brady
Mike Brady
Mike Brady

Mike Brady

The forgotten sector in Irish agriculture is part-time farming. Over 50pc of the 140,000 farmers in this country farm on a part-time basis: ie, either the farmer or spouse work off-farm to supplement household income.

The recent release of a draft reform of CAP 2020-24 raises concerns for part-time farmers due to the text around the definition of an active or genuine farmer.

No income support is proposed for "those whose agricultural activity is an insignificant part of their overall economic activities or whose principal business activity is non-agricultural".

Tests on income and labour activity are suggested criteria for evaluation of "the genuine farmer" which would ultimately decide what subsidies, premia and grants are drawn by individual part-time farmers.

This could have a seismic effect on Irish Agriculture.

In this country we conduct world-renowned research into systems of production for dairying, beef, sheep, arable and horticulture.

This research is driven by environmental sustainability, good animal welfare, technical efficiency and of course achieving financial gain.

Ultimately, the aim is to make Irish agricultural food and drink produce competitive on the world market.

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Of course, this is a most important goal for Ireland as a nation, but it may not always coincide with the views and plans of individual farmers on the ground.

Take for example research into dairying: the low-cost grass-based system of production developed by Teagasc Moorepark has certainly made Irish dairy farmers competitive on the world stage.

The success of the system revolves around good grassland management. Teagasc strongly recommends dairy farmers to measure grass on a weekly basis during the growing season as a management tool which will significantly boost profitability.

To date the vast majority of dairy farmers have refused to adopt the technology, to the surprise of many in the industry.

The lesson from this example is that farmers know their own minds and are unpredictable when it comes to adopting new technology or introducing change into work practices.

If full-time farmers are unpredictable, part-time farmers are even more so, mainly due to the myriad of reasons why they farm in the first place.

As over 50pc of our farmers are part-time, it is vitally important that our industry understands what motivates part-time farmers to farm so that we can make plans for any potential changes in the upcoming CAP reform.

The following are reasons as to why part-time farmers farm and what action they might consider with reduced or no subsidies:

1. Longing to be a full-time farmer

This farmer has most likely inherited a farm too small to provide a good family income. The farmer is motivated to work off-farm, to grow the farm business to a size which will enable the nirvana of farming full-time.

Reduced or no subsidies would put a huge dent in this farmer's plans and ambitions.

In my opinion it would completely demotivate this type of part-time farmer. These part-time farmers are very valuable to our industry and must be protected.

2. Maintaining the family tradition

This farmer again most likely has inherited a farm, but is really only coasting along farming against his-her will because he/she is not brave enough to exit farming by leasing out or selling the farm.

Reduced or no subsidies would affect these types of part-time farmer, but would it affect them enough to exit the industry? I am not convinced they would exit the industry; these part-time farmers are a burden on the industry.

3. Hobby or lifestyle

This category may have inherited or purchased the land, but they genuinely enjoy part-time farming.

Income or profitability is never the top priority, it's a means of getting away from the day job, a good environment to raise children or simply just a status symbol.

They are good custodians of the land and are very often open to receiving knowledge and new technology.

These farmers are often the best proponents of agri-environmental schemes. They will always exist even if there were no direct payments, they must be included in any future agricultural policy.

4. Off-farm career

This is a relatively new type of part-time farmer. A successful farm business profitable enough to be run with full-time labour as the farm business owner works off-farm.

Some large established farm businesses where there are no farming successors fall into this category. Reduced or no subsidies would affect this type of farm business, but for most it would not cause the business to cease. A sign of a great business is one that can run without the owner's involvement. This is the part-time farming of the future.

Overall, the recently improved income tax benefits from long-term leasing of agricultural land has caused many to question continuing the vocation of part-time farming.

It is a clear signal from government to part-time farmers to exit the industry.

Yes, we have small farm size and fragmented holdings in Ireland; this measure is good for improving this aspect of the industry.

However, we must also recognise all the part-time farmers who choose to continue to farm and find a way to include them in the future of our industry.

The CAP reform proposal that individual member states will be able to decide what is best for each country is the perfect opportunity for Ireland to acknowledge and plan the future role for part-time farmers in our industry - they are genuine and have lots to contribute.

Mike Brady is managing director at Brady Group agricultural consultants & land agents, email: mike@bradygroup.ie.

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