Figures from the Central Statistics Office of Ireland released earlier last month reveal that Ireland’s farmers are getting older. The average age of has risen from 51 to 54. Only 7% of Irish farmers are under the age of 35.
In its Food Harvest 2020 report, the government set a goal of growing Irish agri-food exports in worth from €8bn to €13bn by 2020. Currently, only 7% of Irish farmers are under the age of 35. Without an influx of younger, more vibrant farmers, these expansion plans will be difficult to execute.
So what is being done about it?
What makes this issue particularly difficult is that farming isn’t something you just fall into. One needs to make a definitive, conscious choice in order to move into the profession.
It requires patience, years of practical training and a genuine passion to get anywhere near to doing it right.
And this is not just a problem afflicting Ireland. Only 6% of farmers across the European Union are under the age of 35, and in some member states this figure drops to as low as 3%.
The issue is not a lack of interest in farming from young people, but rather a number of problems that plague most young entrepreneurs – issues with raising finance, low return on investment during the first years of investment and access to land. If a young person sees no prospects in buying a farm, why bother buying one?
A number of bodies in Ireland and across the EU are working to get more young people into farming, and to support them throughout the formative years of their careers.
Central to this movement is the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA). Created in 1958, CEJA works to the objective of promoting a younger, more innovative agricultural sector across the EU.
To this end, CEJA has launched ‘Future…Food…Farmers’ (http://www.futurefoodfarmers.eu), a European-wide campaign which aims to raise public and political awareness of the age crisis in European agriculture.
Supported by a number of prominent MEPs, the campaign suggests a number of solutions to the problems listed above, including changes in common agriculture policy, concentrating on installation subsidies and facilitating easier access to bank loans. In early 2013, they aim to present the campaign to the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş; President of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council and Irish Farm Minister Simon Coveney; and Member of European Parliament and Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Paolo de Castro.
The future of agriculture not only rests on an influx of young blood to supplant the old guard as it retires, but also on key environmental issues. With the younger generation perhaps better equipped to make the sweeping changes needed, CEJA has launched the ‘Climate Farmers’ scheme, designed to promote the importance of young farmers in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Emphasising the farmer’s key role in the fight against climate change is a good way to attract under 35s, who tend to care more about environmental issues than other age groups, to the agriculture sector.
And a message for the older generation: don’t worry, you’re not redundant yet. While concerning, what these figures don’t take into account is that we’re getting healthier, living longer and more importantly, our quality of life is increasing. We are able to work at a higher level for much longer than we ever have before.
If the suggested changes do come to pass, the older generation will become even more important. Even now, most of these schemes require active participation from established farmers, and their mentorship and guidance will be crucial to the survival and expansion of the industry.
By Matt Skinner, Journalist and Content Editor for BusinessesForSale.com. Matt also writes for other titles in the Dynamis stable, including FranchiseSales.co.uk, BusinessWings.co.uk, and is the editor of PropertySales.com as well as being an occasional contributor to, Talk Business magazine and Start Your Business Magazine.