Older farmers need to be 'incentivised' to retire

Teagasc expert says Scandinavian model would also boost farm safety

John McNamara (far right), Teagasc Health & Safety Specialist discusses ATV with farmers at a recent Teagasc and HSA farm safety event in Clonakilty. Photo O’Gorman Photography
John McNamara (far right), Teagasc Health & Safety Specialist discusses ATV with farmers at a recent Teagasc and HSA farm safety event in Clonakilty. Photo O’Gorman Photography

Caroline Crawford

Older Irish farmers must be incentivised to retire and pass the farm over to younger generations, a farm safety conference has heard.

Dr John McNamara, a farm safety and health specialist with Teagasc, compared farming in Ireland to that in Scandinavian countries where farmers retire between the age of 55 and 60 and often move away from the farm.

While he accepted that Irish farmers were not "going to hang up their boots and go golfing" he stressed that most fatal accidents on Irish farms were occurring in the older age group.

"If you look at the Scandinavian comparisons, they get holidays over there. They carry out regular health and safety checks and they retire at the age of 55.

"They have very good infrastructure because they get long-term loans, and they have significantly less accidents," he said.

Dr McNamara said Irish farmers needed to look at that model and treat farming here more as a business, something which was already occurring among the new generation of Irish farmers.

He added that we need to do more to incentivise older farmers to retire.

"Absolutely, there is long term leasing and there are quite a number of leases there and they are working but the more that can be done in that area the better. It's about risk really," said Dr McNamara. "Farmers are not going to hang up their boots and go golfing, they want to be involved in the farm but it's about doing things that are lowering the risk and about farmers seeing the risk.

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"Gradually we must get more and more older people to realise they need to do less," he said.

Vulnerable

The conference heard that the average age of the Irish farmer is now 58.

"Once people get to 50 or 60 the rate of accidents tend to move up. We are vulnerable from that perspective," said Dr McNamara.

Prof James Phelan, chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership Committee said there was a "clear shift towards a greater percentage of fatalities among older people in agriculture."

There has been 522 fatalities on Irish farms between 1989 and 2016 and those over the age of 55 are most likely to be killed in recent years.

The next largest number of fatalities occurs in those under the age of 15.

Machinery and being struck by objects or animals while walking around the farm are the two big killers, however, he pointed out that a significant number of children killed in farm accidents die in accidents next to the house, in the area classified as the annex.

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