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2 October 2008 Edition

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Farmers' mart survey : Initial findings show dissatisfaction

The sample presented is from a survey carried out in West Cork and Kerry

The sample presented is from a survey carried out in West Cork and Kerry









Single Farm Payment has not improved situation of farmers in south-west


THE National Ploughing Championships in Kilkenny last week saw Martin Ferris TD release the initial findings of a survey on the future of farming conducted by Sinn Féin during the summer months. An analysis of the complete survey will be published later this year as part of the Oireachtas Agriculture and Fisheries report into the future of farming and fishing in the west of Ireland. What is presented here is a sample from the survey carried out at marts in West Cork and Kerry.
Of the farmers polled, 32.5 per cent were involved in dry stock, 25.3 per cent in mixed production, 23 per cent in dairying and the remainder mainly in sheep or suckler herds. The main question asked was whether they felt that their own situation had improved or disimproved since the introduction of the Single Farm Payment.

Table 1. Do you feel that your situation has improved or disimproved since the introduction of the Single Farm Payment?
Improved      21.7%
Disimproved      66.3%
No change/other      12.0%

The findings would indicate that, despite the optimism that surrounded the introduction of the SFP as part of the 2003 CAP reform package, that a large majority of farmers feel that their situation has either gotten worse or has not changed with decoupling.
The level of pessimism was fairly even across the different types of farmers interviewed, with 67 per cent of mixed, 68 per cent of dairy, 56 per cent of dry stock and 56 per cent of sheep farmers claiming that their situations had disimproved. The most pessimistic were those involved in suckling of whom 78 per cent felt that their situations had gotten worse and only 11 per cent of whom felt it had improved.

Table 2. Do you believe that farmers in western counties are disadvantaged in comparison to those in the rest of the country?
Yes      79%
No      10%
Don’t know/other      11%

Table 3. Do you believe that yourself or a family member will still be engaged in farming in 10 years’ time?
Yes      43%
No      40%
Don’t know      17%

The results would indicate that only a minority of farmers are clearly optimistic about themselves or their family continuing to farm in the future. Indeed, a significant number of respondents specifically referred to a lack of interest on the part of sons and daughters and or a lack of belief that the farm would be viable.
The findings reflect official forecasts on the continued decline of farm numbers over the foreseeable future although the above would indicate an even sharper rate of decline than that foreseen in Agri Vision 2015, which envisaged a fall of 31,000, from 136,000 in 2002 to 105,000 farm households in 2015.1
Seventy-two per cent of those who felt that their situation had improved believed that they or a family member would still be involved in farming in 10 years’ time with 11 per cent of the opinion that they would not and 17 per cent unsure.
In contrast, just 28 per cent of those who felt that the SFP had made their situation worse believed they would still be farming, compared to 56 per cent who thought they would not and 16 per cent who were uncertain about the future.
The final part of the survey asked farmers what they believed were the most important issues facing both farming, and rural Ireland at the present time. The results of the survey on specific farming issues ranked according to how often they were mentioned are contained in Table 4.

Table 4. What do you believe are the three major issues facing Irish farmers at the present time?
Input Costs    33.3%
Output Prices    18.4%
Red Tape and Regulations    14.4%
Weather      10.3%
Imports    8.5%
WTO    3.1%
Viability/decline of farming    3.1%
Farm succession/inheritance    2.2%
Long Hours    1.3%
Tax    1.3%
Direct Payments    1.3%
Competition    0.5%
Lack of organic incentives    0.5%

Costs were identified as the most important of the three issues by 42.5 per cent of respondents, with prices (14 per cent), weather (14 per cent) and imports (11 per cent) being the other main first choices.
Issues specifically related to the economic running of the farm clearly dominate although it is interesting that weather features so prominently, illustrating the natural difficulties faced by farmers. The fact that red tape and regulation are among the main concerns is also of note and perhaps contradicts predictions that this would become less of a problem for farmers with the advent of the Single Farm Payment.
The other question concerned issues not specific to farming but to rural Ireland in general. The responses are again ranked according to those most often mentioned as issues of concern.

Table 5. What do you believe are the three major issues facing rural Ireland at the present time?
Jobs/economy    24.0%
Planning    20.2%
Emigration/depopulation    13.1%
Isolation    10.9%
Closures of shops,
pubs, post offices    10.4%
Transport    5.5%
Crime/security    4.4%
Red tape/regulations    4.4%
Weather    2.7%
Drink driving laws    2.2%
Immigration    1.6%

Jobs and the economy was the first issue mentioned by 27 per cent of respondents followed by planning at 20 per cent, emigration and depopulation at 17 per cent and isolation at 11 per cent. The issues most prominent indicate an anxiety about the future of rural communities and their long-term viability.
The fact that jobs and the economy is the most important issue is hardly surprising given the results of the survey specifically related to farming and also in the context of the current economic downturn. That planning features as strongly points to ongoing concerns over people being able to build on their own land and that ties in with the overall impression of uncertainty over the long term survival of communities under strong internal and external pressures perceived to be contributing to population decline.

1 Agri Vision 2015, p82

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