Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue said his main goal is to ensure that agriculture remains strong and sustainable in the future.
In yesterday’s Seanad (Tuesday March 5), Senator Victor Boyhan asked Minister McConalogue to clarify whether he was considering setting up a pension plan for dairy farmers.
The independent scent, which is a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, also highlighted the challenge of generational renewal.
“Macra na Feirme continued to emphasize the need to secure the transition issues around agriculture and a young generation in agriculture, which is a challenge. I am deeply concerned about the current percentage of around 6% of farmers under the age of 35.
“At the same time, people shouldn’t feel like they’re kicked out of the land. An older generation may be able to transfer knowledge and experience.
“For these people, we are not just talking about their farm or their workplace; it is their home, their community, their language and their way of life. We need to understand all of these complexities when we talk about rural communities and agriculture,” Boyhan said.
The senator also stressed the need to discuss “broad diversification.”
“We want to keep people on the land, keep our rural communities and family farms viable, add, expand, cooperate and use all kinds of synergies. The reality of the new agriculture for many people is that there will be off-farm income.
In response, Minister McConalogue said generational renewal is central to all Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) policies.
He said the issue also figures prominently in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Food Vision 2030.
The minister said Ireland’s draft CAP strategic plan offers “innovative ways” to advise older farmers on succession and their retirement options. He said this will increase the availability of land for young farmers.
Minister McConalogue did not directly answer Senator Boyhan’s question about a pension plan for dairy farmers.
However, he ruled out introducing an early retirement scheme, which he said was suggested in his recent meetings with farmers in markets across the country.
“I ultimately decided not to go down this route. When we have done this before, it was found that it did not necessarily achieve its main objective of directing funds to young farmers and encourage young people to take up farming.
“Instead, it funded farmers under 65 to leave earlier. A large number of farmers over the age of 65 who are entitled to the pension remain.
“I want to bring young people into agriculture. When you have a certain pool defined, is it better to give funding to people who are retiring earlier or is it better to target it to the young farmers that you want to encourage?
“The approach I have taken throughout the CAP has been to try to direct this funding towards young farmers. We have increased funding and improved all existing plans.
“As we move forward, the key policy objective will be to drive generational renewal and bring young farmers into the industry to support it,” the Minister said.