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Sustainable Transition of the Rural Economy Through Generational Renewal

Sustainable Transition of the Rural Economy Through Generational Renewal

This project, a collaboration between Maynooth University and Teagasc, funded by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM), highlights the importance of generational renewal for the sustainability of agriculture in Ireland.

Sustainable generational renewal programmes necessitate a dual focus. They require a framework of supports for adequate retirement income provisioning for retiring farmers (and their dependants) within a clear exit strategy from the farm. Secondly, a framework to provide farm successors and new entrants a formal route to farm ownership is required. Most farms in Ireland operate as sole-traders and this can hinder family-farm transfers and act as a barrier for new entrants. Collaborative farming and alternative farm business structures offer potential frameworks for families to farm together and for new entrants to join the industry, but to date have low adoption in Irish agriculture.


The findings on collaborative farming reveal diversity in business structures across Europe. In Ireland, there is potential for collaborative farming to address generational renewal. However, policymakers must carefully consider where to target growth due to the economic vulnerability of many farms. Farmers are motivated by the desire to involve the next generation. However, financial concerns and uncertainties about the future can deter them.

Regarding retirement income provision, many European countries have specific State pension arrangements for farmers. Ireland's system requires high contributions, up to 40 years, and has significant gaps due to non-mandatory registration and means testing. This has resulted in inadequate pension coverage, with only about 50% of farmers having private pensions. Farmers without private pensions plan to rely on the State Pension, family support, continued farming, and personal savings for income post-retirement.


To encourage growth in collaborative farming in Ireland, policies should target both economically viable and lower-income farm systems. Agricultural advisors should have a comprehensive understanding of collaborative farming to effectively guide farmers. Financial incentives for succession planning and the formation of formal collaborative arrangements, like partnerships and companies, should be developed. Additionally, improved data collection on alternative business structures is necessary for informed policy development.

Policy changes are needed to close gaps in social welfare pension coverage for farmers in Ireland. Young farmers should start paying PRSI from the beginning of their career to ensure a complete contribution history for State pensions. Spouses and civil partners working on farms should also be required to register for PRSI to establish a contributions history. Transitional provisions should address current coverage gaps, including adjustments to means testing. Considering the low private pension coverage among farmers, a more inclusive State pension system is essential.

Read the full report here