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Part-Time Farmers Hit Hard by Economic Downturn

Part-time farmers have been found to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the economic downturn. The numbers employed in agriculture are declining and so too are the off-farm jobs held by part-time farmers.

The total number of people employed in agriculture declined from 115,000 at the end of 2008 down to 98,000 during 2009. While the absolute number of those working in the sector fell, so too did the sector’s relative share of total employment, which now accounts for 5% of the total Irish workforce. The primary driver of the change between the second quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2009 was a fall in the number of self-employed farmers.

In the latest edition of TResearch, the Teagasc Research and Innovation magazine, a detailed assessment of changes in the sectoral composition of off-farm employment is presented. It highlights the variance in the numbers of farmers losing their jobs, depending on the sectors they are working in. The construction sector was the most important sector providing off-farm employment for farmers, but those working in it witnessed the greatest fall in employment over the period analysed. This decline in construction accounts for half of the drop in off-farm employment experienced by farmers.

Teagasc researcher David Meredith said: ”The two key factors that are thought to influence the level of exposure to unemployment in this sector are: education and skill levels; and geographic location relative to employment opportunities. With nearly seventy per cent of all farmers recording lower secondary education as their highest qualification, they are more vulnerable to unemployment in the economic downturn. As of 2006, only six per cent of farmers had a third level degree. A need has been identified to develop the existing skills of farmers to enable them to participate in the development of the rural economy.

These developments in the employment market are of concern given the extent to which off-farm income supports the viability of many farms.

David Meredith’s article “Impact of the Economic Downturn on Part-time Farmers” can be viewed online: http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/tresearch/