Farm Assist scheme needs an overhaul, warn hill farmers

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The Farm Assist scheme needs to be overhauled, farm leaders have warned.

The number of farmers receiving payments from the scheme has dropped to its lowest in the past six years, according to the latest figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Counties in the north and west, such as Donegal and Mayo, have the highest number of claimants for the means-assisted payment.

There are currently 6,277 claiming Farm Assist payments compared to 7,234 in 2018 and a peak of 10,303 in 2013.

Donegal (1,111) and Mayo (934) have the highest number of claimants.

INHFA deputy president Henry O'Donnell told the Farming Independent that there are "deficiencies in the scheme" and that it should be reviewed.

"Many farmers feel disillusioned with the scheme and feel that it underpays them. They're put off applying to it. It needs a review to reflect people's incomes needs more accurately.

"There's a mass exodus of farmers in our area travelling to Dublin for work each week and those people aren't eligible for the Farm Assist so that's another reason for declining numbers."

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Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesperson Charlie McConalogue said the drop in people claiming payments wasn't due to increasing incomes in the farming community, particularly in his Donegal constituency where farmers are heavily reliant on the scheme.

"Incomes aren't getting higher amongst farmers. There are no additional supports in place for them.

"The Farm Assist is still a very valuable scheme and it's important that farmers are rewarded for the efforts they are making with their farm as this money is then passed into the local economy."

IFA farm family executive, Geraldine O'Sullivan, added that once a farmer reached 66 they no longer qualify for Farm Assist and as farmers age they have less dependent children meaning they too don't qualify.

"There are also 3,000 farmers on the Rural Social Scheme who are not on Farm Assist, but qualified for Farm Assist which is a requirement to get on the Rural Social Scheme."

A spokesperson for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection stated that the Farm Assist reduction can be attributed to a number of factors including the numbers of people taking up farming as a career, the level of farm income and the age profile of the participants.

It added that approximately 1,830 (or almost 30pc) of the current 6,277 recipients on the Farm Assist scheme are aged 60 years or older and 370 (6pc) are aged less than 35 years.

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