Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Low-income farmers need more support

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The extent to which there is a real and widening gap in incomes in the farm sector was confirmed by the preliminary results of the Teagasc National Farm Survey for 2011.

While the 33,000 full-time commercial farmers saw their average incomes jump to €56,000, some 37,000 others were classed as "economically vulnerable" by Teagasc.

These farmers' incomes were well below the €24,861 average that was recorded by the survey and they were even more financially exposed because they, or their spouse, did not have an off-farm job to boost earnings due to the wider economic recession.

For many of these farmers, the lift in farm incomes last year was very welcome but it would be a stretch to say they were in clover because of it.

In contrast, the Teagasc survey noted that 5,000 farmers saw their incomes top €100,000 last year.

The bulk of these were probably dairy farmers, given that the average income for the country's 18,000 milk suppliers was up 38pc to almost €70,000 and a quarter topped the €100,000 mark.

Dairy men will argue the farm survey was history and happenings on world markets since the back-end of last year totally altered the scene for this year.

But, the income disparity between the top and bottom rungs of farmers confirms that while the top group are increasingly looking at world markets as the arbiters of their income, the bottom and middle tier still depend on income supports from Brussels.

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The fact that the average income for beef farmers last year was just €10,000 -- and this after a 50pc rise and beef prices at a historic high level -- shows the precarious nature of the sector.

It was a similar story for sheep farmers, with average incomes increasing by 27pc to €17,084. This is around half the level of the average income for Irish workers as calculated by the CSO.

The need for some sort of coupled payment for suckler cows to keep the beef herd intact has been touted by IFA and the beef industry as a necessary requirement in any CAP reform package. But surely some sort of a special support or basic payment level should also be introduced for low-income farmers.

In his story on page 2, Darragh McCullough outlines the extent of farm payment cuts and increases on county-by-county basis since 2008.

Almost €11m less was paid to Donegal's farmers last year compared to 2008. In Galway, this figure was €7.2m and in Mayo €4.7m.

During the same period, payments to farmers in Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick and Louth increased.

There is something not right there.

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