Young generation's seeds of doubt could hamper the growth of our vital industry
I recently sat in on a Sunday night with my parents and an aunt and uncle who farmed down the road. Both farms raised families and put children through college.
Of the six children who grew up on these two farms, none is farming or showing any signs of returning home to farm. We were all encouraged to get an education and a career, and this seems to be the case across Ireland.
The FarmIreland.ie survey raises serious questions and issues about the future of farming in Ireland - namely, who will own the land and who will farm it? According to the research, more than 80pc of farmers would not consider selling their farm. That's not a surprising figure, given the Irish attachment to land. But when one looks at the number of farmers who would encourage their children to take up farming as a career, it throws open serious questions.
If almost half of farmers would not encourage their children to go farming, and this figure is significantly high among beef farmers, what will happen to their farms and who will be farming in the next generation or two?
Unsurprisingly, dairy farmers were relatively positive about a career in farming, with 60pc saying they would encourage their children to take up farming. And it's little wonder - figures from the Teagasc National Farm Survey over the past number of years have put dairy farm incomes well ahead of other sectors, to the point one would question whether dairy is the only sector that offers a viable income to farmers.
Despite poor incomes, farming continues to be an essential source of employment and wealth creation in rural Ireland. The economic importance of farmers may not feature prominently in GDP announcements - but visit any rural town or village and the shopkeepers and hairdressers and they will tell of the importance farming has to local economies.
Working on this survey brought me to Kilkenny mart, where 1,600 cattle were sold giving the mart a turnover in the region of €1m that day. But there is no doubt that the number of young people who will be entering farming as a full-time career continues to fall. Younger generations are less willing to work long hours at a tough, physically demanding job and at the end of the day see little or, in some cases, no return at all.
But those who are willing to farm must have access to land to do so, especially land that will likely in the years to come have someone to farm it. Initiatives such as the Macra Land Mobility Scheme are to be encouraged. While we can't get away too easily from our mentality to own land, and keep it in families for generations, something needs to be done about the slowdown of farming in many parts of the county.