Only 48% of local farmers over the age of 50 had identified a successor, according to John McCallister, the manager of Northern Ireland’s new land mobility programme
He added: “This is one of the core conclusions to come out of a recent Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster survey. We also know that the average age of a farmer in Northern Ireland is 58, while only 18% of our land is in a state of optimal fertility.
“These facts confirm a serious structural problem at the very heart of the farming industry, one which the new Land Mobility Programme has been drawn up to help address.”
Mr McCallister made these comments while recently addressing Danske Bank’s group of agri managers in Belfast.
He confirmed that the land mobility service will operate in a very flexible manner.
“It can take in a wide variety of future land use alternatives, from long term leasing through to share farming opportunities.
“My role will be to match the needs of older landowners, wishing to retire or scale down their farming activities, with younger people wanting to develop a career in production agriculture.
“At the heart of all this will be the development of trust between both parties. And, naturally, it will take time for this to grow.”
Mr McCallister confirmed that he has already received 80 enquiries from people wanting to know more about the land mobility programme.
“As it happens, the list is split almost 50:50 between older landowners wishing to look at retirement options and younger people wanting to secure a meaningful foothold in the industry.
“This is a tremendous base from which to start the development of the new service.”
Mr McCallister continued: “There is also scope for the UK government to look at changes to the tax system, so as to encourage land owners to actively engage in leasing arrangements.
“This has already happened in the Republic of Ireland. And the impact this is having, in terms of facilitating young people’s entry into production agriculture, is tangible.”
The Land Mobility Programme will be developed on behalf of both the YFCU and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU). Both organisations are confident that the new service will benefit both older and younger farming generations.
John McCallister will be responsible for creating a database of interested older and younger farmers that will help link these groupings to appropriate opportunities. The service, which is to be provided on a no-charge basis, will outline available options. Specifically, it will help develop agreements based on personal priorities and circumstances.
“I will be encouraging those participating to get independent legal and financial advice when it comes to formalising the final agreement which they would like to enter into,” said McCallister
Commenting, Danske Bank’s head of agribusiness Robert McCullough said that the new land mobility service had real potential. He added:
“We need to get away for the current reliance on conacre. Too many farm businesses are not achieving the output potential they are capable of attaining.
“We need a mindset change that will help improve the motivation of farmers on the ground. Part of the problem is the fact that the average farmer age in Northern Ireland is 58. This is far too old. If the new land mobility service can help address this issue, it will represent a major step forward for the farming industry as a whole.”
John McCallister can be contacted on: 07833 668602.