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Mike Brady: Part-time farmers must not be forgotten in CAP reform

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Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.

Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.

Ready for inspection: This February-born Belgian Blue cross weanling bull, weighing 490kg sold for €1,200 at Mohill Mart. Photo: Brian Farrell

Ready for inspection: This February-born Belgian Blue cross weanling bull, weighing 490kg sold for €1,200 at Mohill Mart. Photo: Brian Farrell

Brian Farrell

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Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.

Most full-time farmers will be coming off a welcome period of relative calm. They can use December and January to switch into minimal operations mode - no new projects starting, keep the ship floating along and get some rest.

By contrast, many part-time farmers can be run off their feet in the holiday period to do paperwork and physical jobs around the farm that they haven't been able to get round to. The annual leave from the 9 to 5 off-farm day job and the availability of the children, on holiday from school or college, provides a perfect opportunity to catch up and clean up on the farm.

Part-time farming is the forgotten sector in Irish agriculture. 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 vast majority are beef farmers, so they are recovering after a fairly rough year in 2019.

This will be compounded in 2020 and 2021 as GLAS scheme payments run out before the next reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In fact, early soundings from the proposed reform raises further 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 significant implications for the farm business finances on part-time farms.

It is vital for our industry to understand what motivates part-time farmers to farm. If we understand part-time farmers we can then make plans for any potential changes in the upcoming CAP reform and protect this vital sector of the industry.

The success of long-term leasing of agricultural land has caused many to question continuing part-time farming. The tax-driven leasing policy is a clear signal from government to part-time farmers that the transfer of land to larger full-time viable farmers is preferred.

Yes, we have small fragmented, farm holdings in Ireland; this measure is good for improving this aspect of the industry, but we must not forget the viability of the part-time farmer.

If we fail to do so, we could end up with vast tracts of land lying abandoned in parts of the country.

Hobby / lifestyle farmer

Hobby or lifestyle part-time farmers will not be affected with a reduction in farm subsidies or an increase in the work required to get subsidies.

Income and profitability are not the priority on these farms. These farmers are good custodians of the land and are often open to receiving knowledge and new technology. These farmers are often the best proponents of agri-environmental schemes.

These part-time farmers must be included in any future agricultural policy.

Part-time longing to be a full-time farmer

The category most at risk in the CAP reform. 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.

Part-time farmer by default

These most likely inherited a farm; they are really only coasting along farming against their will because they are not brave enough to exit farming by leasing out or selling the farm.

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

It appears there will be much more flexibility for individual member states to have national policy for distribution of funds under the new CAP reform.

This surely is the perfect opportunity for government to put in place policies that acknowledge, support and encourage part-time farming.

Genuine part-time farmers have lots to contribute to a vibrant agri-food industry.

Part-time farmers need to question why they are farming in the first place, and more importantly to have a clear vision of where they see their farm business in 10 years.

Mike Brady is managing director at Brady Group agricultural consultants and land agents; mike@bradygroup.ie

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