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‘We shouldn’t have farmers having to farm into their 70s’: Martin Heydon

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Minister of State at the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon pictured on the banks of the River Liffey near his constituency office in Newbridge. Photo: Frank McGrath

Minister of State at the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon pictured on the banks of the River Liffey near his constituency office in Newbridge. Photo: Frank McGrath

Minister of State at the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon pictured on the banks of the River Liffey near his constituency office in Newbridge. Photo: Frank McGrath

An early retirement scheme may not be the simple solution to prevent farm accidents among older farmers, according to Martin Heydon, Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture.

Speaking to the Farming Independent about farm safety, the minister said while “we shouldn’t have farmers having to farm at age”, into their seventies, it’s “easy to say” there should be a retirement scheme. “I see it myself, if you’re in your seventies and you get in front of that freshly-calved cow, in your mind you’re as quick as you were 10 years earlier, but you can get caught and it’s a dreadful thing that happens.

“We shouldn’t have farmers having to farm into that age. If they want to, that’s one thing, but they don’t always want to.”

The minister, with responsibility for farm safety, said there were lessons to be learnt from the previous early retirement scheme. “People were nearly made to feel like criminals if they were seen walking across the yard with a bucket. They were afraid somebody might report them.

“For me, succession involves younger farmers. We do need younger farmers involved earlier. The average age of our farmers is 57 — it’s far too high. For that to happen [for more younger people to be involved earlier] it requires it to work for the younger person as well too.”

The minister said changes in long-term leasing make it more attractive to younger farmers who might not have access to a sustainable amount of land. “Some farmers want to continue farming, but some farmers don’t have an obvious successor.

“In some cases, the obvious successor isn’t willing to take on, say, a beef enterprise that isn’t making a huge amount of money, so maybe that succession isn’t happening.”

He said future care and finances are also genuine concerns for older farmers.  

“There’s a concern that when you make that decision to sign that over to the next generation, will you be looked after? If that son or daughter, or niece or nephew, takes it over and they’re single, but then they get married, what changes will that make down the line?

“These are considerations that farmers tend not to have the discussion about as early.”

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