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Friday 16 November 2018

Older farmers need a Macra-style body to fight their corner

'It's emotional rather than economic factors that are the hard issues farmers face when transferring the family farm'.
'It's emotional rather than economic factors that are the hard issues farmers face when transferring the family farm'.
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A Macra-style organisation is needed to help older farmers face issues such as succession, says a new study from NUI Galway.

The main finding of the study was that it's emotional rather than economic factors that are the hard issues farmers face when transferring the family farm.

A voluntary organisation like Macra for older farmers would help them remain active within the farming community and reduce the emotional stress around succession and land transfer.

"We recommended a version of Macra because there's nothing specific for the older generation of farmers," Dr Shane Conway who published the study, says.

"It could be funded through membership and government support. It would help to keep them active and involved in what they know.

"It would give them national representation and give them a presence at the top table of agriculture circles."

Dr Conway also believes that an older farmers' organisation could collaborate with Macra na Feirme on succession and other issues.

"Generational renewal is key for agriculture growth going forward but older people have specific knowledge.

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"A young person might get a 1.1 degree in Animal and Crop Production from UCD but the older generation have a lifetime of knowledge, so the two organisations could collaborate and learn from one another," he said.

Dr Conway said the study showed that when developing policies around older farmers, it's important the human side of issues are taken in to account.

Control

"Farming is more than an economic activity, it's about emotions and having control over the farm," Dr Conway said.

"Some farmers might have had the farm transferred to them late in life and it's hard to expect them to transfer when they haven't had it that long themselves," he said.

"In the 1970s a study on farm succession was done by Teagasc's Packie Commins and it examined the human side of farm succession and looking beyond the economic issues.

"The 2007 Early Retirement scheme said that farmers must cease all farming activity forever. So you'd a man 40 years ago advocating to look at the human side and 40 years later the Government come back and are telling you to stop farming activity forever.

"Policy ignores the emotional issues because economics are easier to quantify. You can't put a price on attachment to land. Generational renewal is well and good but what happens to the older generation? The 'soft' issues are the hard issues," said Dr Conway.

The survey found that farmers found it almost impossible to visualise what their lives would be like if they no longer lived on the farm or worked in an agricultural setting.

Dr Conway said that the 19 in-depth interviews he did helped to bring the issues to life. "It really brought the answers from the survey to life because anyone can tick a box. Some cases were upsetting. It's not always easy when you ask a farmers in their 70s or 80s what they hope for the future. Some even said it was nice just to talk," he said.

Dr Conway's study - 'Understanding the Farmer/Farm Relationship in Later Life' - was based on a series of surveys distributed at Teagasc 'Transferring the Family Farm' clinics. Over 300 farmers were surveyed.

Emotional ties to the land the 'hard issue' for older generation

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