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Conference Hears of Low Interest by Farmers in Farm Diversification

Only a tiny proportion of farmers are interested in a diversified business according to the results of Teagasc research. The research showed that expanding the farm business or securing an off-farm job are the main economic strategies preferred by farmers.

The results of the research were presented by Dr David Meredith of Teagasc at the National Rural Development Conference in Enfield, Co Meath today (Tuesday 16 October). The conference on ‘Maximising the Use of Rural Resources’ was organised by the National Rural Network and Teagasc and run in association with the Irish Local Development Network, Macra na Feirme and the Western Development Commission.

The research was conducted among a sample of 472 farmers nationwide. When asked about their preferred development strategy, 38% said their preferred option was to develop and expand their farming business while 58% expressed a preference for combining farm work with an off-farm job. Just 2% of farmers expressed a preference for setting up a diversified farm-based business.
The research indicates that the interest and desire to increase scale and output in farming is predominantly within the dairying and tillage sectors. Three out of every five farmers, mainly involved in beef and sheep production, felt their farm business is not capable of delivering sufficient income to support the farm household. Also, almost three-quarters of all farmers surveyed felt that the opportunities for off-farm employment will be limited in the future.

David Meredith told 300 delegates attending the conference that less than 2% of farmers are currently operating a diversified business on their farms. The majority of these businesses are tourism-related. In the UK, 31% of farms operate a diversified business. However, he stressed that the proportion of diversified farm businesses per 1,000 households in Ireland is higher that that of the UK.
He said that under the National Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 there is grant-aid of €16 million available to support farm diversification and create rural jobs. To date, there are 365 applications for projects involving €18.5m investment and potential grant-aid of €10 million. Up to the end of 2011, grant-aid of almost €3 million was awarded to 113 projects. This investment has supported the creation of 116 full-time job equivalents.

“The limited success of farm diversification measures over almost two decades to encourage more farm households to develop alternative farm enterprises demonstrates the importance of understanding the response of individual farmers to policy measures.”
“In the current context of the need for employment creation and limited public funds, it is important that policy-makers identify what motivates farmers to engage with new schemes to ensure their success. The type of research presented today should be undertaken in advance of establishing future rural development programmes,” said Dr Meredith.

Dr Pat Bogue of the National Rural Network told the conference that the absence of off-farm jobs poses a major problem for tens of thousands of farm families.
“There is a perception and fear among farm families that diversification must be something totally new or different but we see many examples of new income earning opportunities which have involved new approaches to core products such as direct selling of beef or lamb, sales through farmers markets or added value dairy products.
“Therefore the main farm enterprise can be developed in tandem with a new income source. There are supports for these activities under the current rural development programme under LEADER and additional supports are proposed in the new programme post 2013,” said Dr Bogue.

Dr Pat Bogue announced that the National Rural Network is commencing a research project, ‘Encouraging Enterprise at Farm Level Post 2013’, which will examine how farm families can be encouraged and supported to use their farm and family resources in new ways to secure their incomes. It is intended that this research will recommend measures for inclusion in the next RDP.

At the National rural Development Conference were, from left: Joe Potter, Irish Local Development Network, Dr David Meredith, Teagasc, Joanne Grehan, Western Development Commission, Edmond Connolly, Macra na Feirme and Ciaran Lynch, National Rural Network.