TWO thousand young farmers have applied for a new scheme aimed at encouraging the handover of land to the next generation.
Farming is set for a “generational change, the likes of which we have never seen” as young farmers take advantage of new incentives and opportunities, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said.
Around 2,000 have already applied to the new national reserve scheme which provides annual farm payments to newly established farmers and many more are expected to sign up for the young farmers scheme which gives them an additional 25pc top-up on EU payments.
Although it’s too early for full statistics as the schemes are still taking applications, there is anecdotal evidence that the new incentives introduced this year are already bearing fruit by encouraging older farmers to transfer the farm to the next generation to boost income, said Mr Coveney at a briefing.
Just 6pc of farmers in Ireland are aged under 35 and more are aged over 70 as they had traditionally been very slow to hand over the reins despite compelling evidence that educated young farmers were better equipped to deal with new challenges such as climate change.
“What this is doing is getting the family to have the conversation , look we can bring a single farm payment here into this which is 25pc higher than it currently is if we choose to transfer ownership now, which is a shift in power as well from one generation to the next,” said Mr Coveney.
New farm investment grants set to be rolled out shortly would also give priority to younger farmers.
Land prices were rising and agricultural colleges were bursting at the seams because of good prospects in the sector.
Milk quotas will be abolished in 17 days time after 40 years and Ireland could realistically double its milk production over the next 10 to 15 years, with around 10,000 new jobs expected by 2020, Mr Coveney said.
A third of bank loans last year went to farmers and the food sector last year showing the huge appetite for expansion., with multimillion euro investments by Glanbia, Dairygold and the Kerry Group also directly linked to the end of quotas.
Mr Coveney said there was an environmental challenge in expanding dairy production while meeting Ireland’s targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but a lot could be done to reduce emissions by better feeding and breeding to get more milk from each cow.
Irish milk had the lowest carbon emissions in the world and Ireland had been making and winning the argument with the EU commission that this type of production should be encouraged.
“The idea you would ask a country like Ireland to produce less milk and simply allow that milk production to be picked up somewhere else in the world where they have a higher level of emissions per litre of milk is making a negative contribution to a global problem,” he said.