Protestants more likely to have bigger farms, report reveals

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Protestant farmers are more likely to have bigger farms than their Catholic counterparts, according to statistics released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

They are also more likely to be involved in the lucrative dairy industry and farm on more accessible lowland areas.

The department has released the report, ‘Equality Indicators for Northern Ireland Farmers’ which holds reference data on key characteristics of farmers, enabling DAERA to fulfil the requirements of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, in monitoring the social and equality impact of policy relating to this key group.

The main farmer in each business was profiled for Section 75 characteristics including age, sex, marital status, dependants, disability and religion. Data was also obtained for national identity, which may be a useful proxy for political opinion.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

The average age of farmers was 59 years. Only 8% of farmers identified as head of the business were under 40 years old and more than a third (36%) were aged 65 or over.

Almost three quarters (73%) of farmers were married.

Only 9% of principal farming partners were female.

Two fifths (40%) of farm households contained under 18s, elderly dependants or both.

Almost a third (30%) of farmers had a long-term limiting condition compared to around a fifth of the general population. The higher incidence of disability among farmers was related to their older age profile.

The proportion of farmers stating an ethnicity other than white, was very small (less than 1%).

Half (51%) of farmers stated their religion as Protestant, just over two-fifths (42%) as Catholic and 6% as other or no religion. This compares to 42% of the wider population who stated their religion as Protestant, 41% as Catholic and 18% who stated another or no religion.

Information on political opinion was not collected in the Northern Ireland Census of Population. However, as a question on national identity was included, responses to this question were analysed as a proxy measure for political opinion. Overall, 44% of farmers reported their identity as British only, 26% as Irish only and 23% as Northern Irish only. A further 8% of farmers stated another or combination national identity compared to 14% of the general population.

Farm characteristics differed according to the Section 75 profile of principal farming partners.

Female farmers were more likely than their male counterparts to farm on very small farms (87% of women compared to 75% of men).

Farmers of very small farms had a slightly older age profile than those of larger farms, and were much more likely than farmers of large farms to report a disability – 32% of farmers of very small farms said they had a limiting long-term condition compared to 20% of farmers of large farms.

The proportion of farmers who were married increased with farm size, rising from 71% of farmers of very small farms to 84% of farmers of large farms.

Catholic farmers were much more likely than Protestant farmers to farm on very small farms (85% of Catholic farmers compared to 68% of Protestant farmers) and more than three-quarters of Catholic farmers were engaged in cattle and sheep farming in Less Favoured Areas (77%) compared to under half (45%) of Protestant farmers engaged in this type of farming.

In contrast, Protestant farmers were much more likely than Catholic farmers to farm on large farms (10% of compared to 2%), dairy farms (16% compared to 5%) and lowland farms (41% compared to 15%).

The full report on ‘Equality Indicators for Northern Ireland Farmers’ can be downloaded free of charge from the DAERA website at the following link: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/topics/statistics/farmer-equality-indicators