Thousands of farmers facing 'serious poverty' warns Teagasc

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

UP to 30,000 farms are classed as economically vulnerable and at risk of poverty.

The twin problems of low incomes and isolation have been identified as a serious concern in the farm sector by Teagasc, with drystock farmers in the north-west being identified as most at risk.

"Farmers are in serious risk of poverty and isolation and many of these are single-person households and that's the reality," warned Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle.

He was speaking at the launch of the Teagasc National Farm Survey last week, which showed that the average farm income in 2018 dropped 20pc to €23,483.

The survey found that dairy farmers again enjoyed the highest earnings at an average of more than €61,000, with drystock farmers earning just €10,642.

The low income levels in beef and sheep meant that close to a third of the country's 90,000 farmers are facing severe income challenges.

Teagasc's Brian Moran said that overall, 30,000 farms were now categorised as vulnerable, particularly drystock holdings in the north-west of the country.

Mr Moran pointed out that many of these holdings were subsidising their farming operations out of direct payments, which accounted for 158pc of total income.

The threat of severe poverty among beef and sheep farmers is also highlighted by the high number of farmers claiming Farm Assist.

Figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection show that 6,277 people are in receipt of Farm Assist payments in 2019, with more than 2,000 farmers and fishermen in Donegal and Mayo dependent on the income support.

Meanwhile, a senior ESRI analyst has cautioned that average farm incomes will never match those available in the services and industrial sectors, which averaged €39,000 last year.

ESRI research professor Kieran McQuinn told the Farming Independent that farm incomes will always bounce up and down as a result of variations in global commodity supplies and weather conditions.

"Farming by its nature will always have more volatile incomes, and because the Irish economy is so small, it is more exposed to shocks," he said.

"This means farming will find it hard to catch up with the average national wage."

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