The Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed concern after research found the average age of Northern Ireland farmers to be 59 – close to retirement age in other professions.
Yet at the same time, many young people are trying to get into the industry, with agricultural colleges oversubscribed.
Research by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) also found 9% more farmers are Protestant compared to the general population, and that Protestants are much more likely to work larger farms than their Catholic neighbours.
UFU president Ivor Ferguson said that what initially stands out in the research is that the average age of farmers here is 59.
“In many other professions, this would be around the age where people might start to think about retirement,” he said. “However, for farmers it’s not always straightforward.”
Succession and land mobility remain key issues for the UFU which has been working closely with the YFCU and John McCallister, the land mobility programme manager and the Next Generation Forum to address the issues.
“There are many young people trying to get in to the industry, as evidenced by the over-subscription of agricultural colleges,” he added.
The DAERA ‘Equality Indicators for Northern Ireland Farmers’ report says the average age of farmers is 59 years.
Almost a third, 30%, had a long-term limiting condition, which is linked to older age, compared to around a fifth of the general population.
Fifty-one per cent of farmers were Protestant, just over two-fifths, 42%, Catholic and 6% were ‘other’ or no religion.
This compares to 42% of the wider population who state their religion as Protestant, 41% as Catholic and 18% who state they have another religion or none.
Catholic farmers were much more likely to farm on very small farms, 85% of Catholic farmers compared to 68% of Protestant farmers, and more than three-quarters (77%) of Catholic farmers were engaged in cattle and sheep farming in ‘Less Favoured Areas’, compared to under half, 45%, of Protestant farmers.
In contrast, Protestant farmers were much more likely than Catholics to run large farms (10% compared to 2%) in the dairy sector (16% compared to 5%) and be based in lowland areas (41% compared to 15%).