Proposals by a local Ulster Unionist councillor aimed at attracting more young people into farming have been unanimously adopted by the European Union’s Committee of the Regions.
Alderman Arnold Hatch spoke to the committee in Brussels, with EU Commissioner for Agriculture Paul Hogan, from Cork, in attendance.
Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Cllr Hatch, one of four NI representatives on the committee, called on the commission to reduce barriers to farming within the 28 EU countries, ‘thus inspiring and encouraging more young people to pursue a career in agriculture’.
“Young people are drifting away from farming and the countryside. Around 72 per cent of citizens in the EU live in urban areas, with this figure expected to rise to more than 90 per cent in several countries by 2020. We all agree on the importance of rural communities but we are not doing enough to sustain them.”
Commissioner Hogan said, “The farming population is getting older at a rapid rate. For each young farmer – aged 35 years or younger – there are approximately nine farmers older than 55 years.”
Mr Hatch pointed out: “With only six per cent of all farms being managed by people under 35 years old, the aging farming workforce across the EU is a substantial problem that needs addressing. The opinion found that for many young people, however, farming is an undesirable profession owing to low income, long working hours and lack of infrastructure and resources in rural communities.
“We need a healthy agricultural sector for a healthy rural economy but this means reforms of the financial support system for young farmers. The subsidy system should address both the needs of established and new farmers rather than being tied to land ownership.”