Wednesday 29 January 2020

Jerome Reilly: 'Working the land' appeals to over half

Poll finding reflects new vibrancy in Irish farming and the agri-business sector, writes Jerome Reilly
Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll

Working the land, either in farming or in the broader agri-business sector, is now regarded as an attractive career choice, according to the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll.

The finding that 51 per cent believe a career in agriculture is attractive comes as new figures show that in just 12 months, the value of agri-food exports has jumped from €8bn to almost €9bn, a growth rate of more than 13 per cent, unprecedented in the rest of the Irish economy.

The figures suggest that Ireland is on track to meet the ambitious target of increasing the value of the food we export to €30bn by the end of the decade, with the knock-on benefit of tens of thousands of jobs both on the land and in food processing, marketing and other ancillary services to agriculture.

Though becoming a farmer means overcoming major obstacles including cost, difficulties finding land, getting credit and a lack of older farmers retiring to make way for younger people, the number of students applying to study at agricultural college increased by 27 per cent this year.

And reflecting the new vibrancy in farming, new Macra na Feirme clubs are springing up around the country. Membership of the "young farmers" -- representing 18 to 35 year olds with interests in rural life, though not necessarily farmers -- is up by 16 per cent in the last year.

The Sunday Independent /Millward Brown Lansdowne poll was conducted among a sample of 1,027 adults. They were interviewed on a face-to-face basis in the home at 93 sampling points throughout all constituencies in the republic.

Asked: "Do you believe working in agriculture is an attractive career choice?", 26 per cent strongly agreed and 25 per cent agreed -- 51 per cent in agreement overall.

Just 11 per cent did not agree agriculture was a attractive way of making a living and 16 per cent strongly disagreed. In all, 19 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed and 3 per cent didn't know.,

There are problems in farming because of a skewed age profile. Figures from the Department of Agriculture from 2010 showed that just 5 per cent, or 6,228 farmers, under 35 were in receipt of a single farm payment. At the same time, the Department of Agriculture found that 28 per cent, or 33,527 farmers, were over the age of 65. The average age of farmers is 58.

A major initiative to push Irish agri-exports is under way. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has travelled extensively, including a visit to Algeria, in recent months, with the Irish Dairy Board as part of a drive to develop new markets. Bord Bia marketing executives are to be placed in Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The agri-food sector is worth €24bn to the national economy, generates 6.3 per cent of gross value added and provides one in 10 Irish jobs if processing is included. That's 150,000 jobs.

Official figures suggest that there are now 600 food and drinks companies based in the Republic, exporting to about 140 markets worldwide.

Their contribution to the economy has always been important but since the downturn, this has become even more vital with agri-business now accounting for 8 per cent of GDP. The resurgence in farming means that agricultural colleges are operating at full capacity and can't meet demand for places.

Sunday Independent

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