Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Common Agricultural Policy and Young Farmers: Engagement with Macra na Feirme

Mr. John Keane:

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I might bring in my colleague, Mr. Fitzgerald, on this. To touch on the Deputy's initial remarks in terms of the number of young farmers and the number of farmers over the age of 65, to broaden that out to a wider context and given that we are in Covid-19 times and are joining the meeting through Microsoft Teams, if the health service had an age demographic similar to that we have described in terms of young farmers, the Deputy would be correct in saying that it would be a crisis in that sector. From a young farmer's point of view in our sector, and addressing the challenges and the opportunities we have to meet as we move forward, where we are right now and given the trend we have seen from 8,700 young farmers in 2016 or 2017 claiming the entitlements and the payments for young farmers, down to about 7,400 last year, show that trend is continuing.

That has to be verified by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, but those are the figures we are dealing with. I agree there is a need and pressure to ensure that demographic is reversed and changed. In terms of targets we can set as a sector as we move forward, we benchmark and reference it with other sectors across the economy at somewhere between 35% and 30% under the age of 35. We must be realistic and live in the real world and realise that we are not going to get to those levels in a three to five-year period. The measures being proposed to address the key barriers that exist for young farms are not going to deliver a numerical change in the number and percentage of young farmers under the age of 35. If we look across some of the more progressive EU member states and at supports for young farmers, the percentage of young farmers in Austria and some of the Nordic countries is in the mid-teens, anywhere between 14% and 18%. There are regional figures in other countries, including Germany, France and elsewhere, where those figures are similar, and even higher. From our side, that is where we need to aim. That is the benchmark and the water level on which this CAP strategic plan must deliver. The key issues are access to land, credit and initial start-up support. The point the Chairman made about ensuring that older generations have security as they move out of the sector is one of the key things. As young farmers, we recognise there is a need to ensure that those people who have contributed so much to the economy and to the sector over 30, 40 or 50 years are not just pushed to one side. We must recognise their experience, their input and the progress they have made in the past 30 and 40 years, and not let that be overlooked. We must ensure that both ends of the spectrum are supported. As well as young farmers entering through the measures I have touched on, there should be a succession scheme and a pathway to ensure that older farmers have that financial support and security as they move on their career.