'How can they justify this?" was the simple question that one young farmer from Kilkenny asked this week.
John* currently owns a third of the 80ac farm, while two thirds of it are still held by his 90-year-old mother. The theory was that she would hold onto the land as security into her old age. No-one in the family really envisaged that it would ever come to pass that she would have to offer up a significant chunk of the farm to ensure she got adequate care in her twilight years.
However, this is exactly what is beginning to transpire under the 2009 Nursing Home Support Act, colloquially known as the 'fair deal'. It was designed to ensure that no person would be left uncared for in their final years, even if they required fulltime professional care. At the same time, the Act was designed to ensure that the State would be able to recoup the maximum amount from the income or assets belonging to the individuals.
On paper, it seemed like a reasonable solution to what was threatening to become a major issue in an aging Ireland. However, farmers and farm organisations are only beginning to realise the implications that the details of the deal could have on the future of family farm operations.
John and his brother, Derek, are both in line to inherit over 25ac each from their mother. John is the farmer, and the plan was that he would simply rent the land from his brother when the ownership changed.
But with the annual nursing home fees for their 90-year-old mother "well over €40,000", the brothers, slipping behind in payments to the nursing home, applied for support under the new Act.
Despite the fact that she has a pension and a small rental income from her home, the means test concluded that her assets, including the 55ac that she owns, should be levied at a rate of 5pc per annum as a part contribution towards her nursing home fees.
"We were going to sign on the dotted line to accept this last week," said John. "But we also feel that this could be the death knell for the future of the farm.
"Our mother is hail and hearty, thank God," he added. "So she could easily rack up another €400,000 in nursing home charges in less than 10 years.
"It's a huge burden on those left behind. What I'm really worried about is that it is an easy thing to sign up to and everybody kind of forgets about it until it comes around to settling up the bill.
"It doesn't even matter how much the farm is earning. You are just assessed on the number of acres you own with a notional value given per acre. At least if it was a business, it would be assessed on the basis of its accounts.
"I can't believe that the farm organisations allowed farmers to be signed up to this. At the very least, there should be some kind of cap on the number of years that a charge can be levied on the farm, like the way it applies to people's homes. The problem is that I don't know if there are enough farmers out there affected by this to be able to effect some change."
*Names changed to protect identity