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Becoming a farmer is not easy, especially if you were not born on a farm. The most common barrier to new entrants into farming is access to land, as you often need a large land base to establish a commercially viable farm. At the same time, Europe is seeing many older farmers without a ‘successor’ who are often worried about their own future as well as their farm’s. Connecting new farmers with older ones and matching their land needs is a crucial process for the future of farming in Europe, but it can be a complicated and sometimes sensitive issue. The Land Mobility Service of Macra na Feirme in Ireland is demonstrating that a lot can be done to facilitate this match-making process.
Land is the core asset for productive agriculture and in Ireland, the majority of land is owned by the farm operator. Land ownership and transfer is therefore a sensitive issue for farming families. However, the lack of land mobility can stifle the development of agriculture and prevent younger farmers from gaining access to agricultural land. The level of land transfer by sale is minimal and from a young farmer’s perspective, the purchase of land generally remains an impossible idea. The predominant system of land rental is short-term, frequently through informal arrangements, which provides little security for farmers.
The Land Mobility Service is a support service for farmers and farm families who are contemplating expansion, changing enterprise, or stepping back from farming. It was established by Macra na Feirme, an Irish voluntary rural youth organisation, with the financial support of FBD Trust, Aurivo, Dairygold and Glanbia.
The main aim of the service is providing access to land through collaborative farming arrangements. The service facilitates agreements between farmers and farm families who want to step back, reduce their workload, or who do not have a successor wishing to continue the farm, and people who are keen to farm more land or young persons with agricultural qualifications wanting to develop their own career in farming.
The service has three key functions:
A key element is matching people to opportunities, which can be developed through different types of options such as contract production/contract rearing, farm partnerships or share farming. The option chosen must work for the farmer and for the land owner and farming circumstances. Austin Finn, programme manager of the service, with many years of experience working with farmers says “In doing this, the expert nature is very important, the service focus is delivery and support.”
Since it started in 2013, the service has demonstrated that with dedicated independent expertise, it is possible to facilitate new collaborative arrangements between farmers and land-owners, leading to a better return for both parties. Client numbers and engagement from farmers, farm families and other land owners is continuing to grow. The Land Mobility Service now has 360 clients including land owners, expanding operators and new entrants who have engaged in a total of 138 arrangements to date. It is currently in the pilot phase and will soon be put in place on a national scale.
Following two years of effort the service has delivered and proven its benefits. The active support of farmers, the Irish Farmers Association, the Minister for Agriculture and his department, the Irish Farmers Journal, Teagasc and the three pilot area co-ops Dairygold, Aurivo and Glanbia has contributed to this.
Ireland has big plans to expand milk production after the expiring of milk quotas, but the sector is facing a lack of farm successors. According to Paidi Kelly, a Teagasc researcher, the new scenario without milk quotas “means the potential for higher farm profitability and so there are opportunities for collaboration between younger and older people to make a good living from dairy farming” Here, a key role for the Land Mobility Service appears. “You don’t need to be from a farm to become a dairy farmer”, Paidi says, while recognising that “collaborative farming and this service can revolutionise both the productivity and sustainability of the dairy sector”.
It is important to note is that people engaging in collaborative dairy farming need not only to have excellent skills in grass and cows and business management, but also, and especially, social skills to build a good relationship with the owner of the farm. Teagasc is beginning a training programme for people interested in collaborative farming which focuses specifically on developing better business and social skills.
“Without collaborative farming the dairy sector would be in huge trouble”, Paidi concludes: “career opportunities via collaborative farming can become a big method of attracting and retaining people in the Irish dairy sector. The Land Mobility Service will play a big role in this.”
Austin Finn, Land Mobility firstname.lastname@example.org
Paidi Kelly, Teagasc email@example.com
Photo credits: http://landmobility.ie/