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Energising Rural Communities

The Teagasc Rural Development Conference themed Creating off-farm jobs: Employment and training supports for farm families, is taking place in Teagasc Ashtown, Dublin today, Wednesday, 17 September 2014.

Speaking at the conference Minister of state for Rural Affairs, Ann Phelan TD said: “I have a personal and ministerial role in energising rural communities. I am also aware of the many challenges they face and one of my tasks is to achieve a heightened awareness of these challenges to ensure that all the support agencies are rural proofing their development and business plans. The agenda for today’s conference is focussed on creating and supporting off farm jobs. One of my hopes is to energise rural communities so that they can see and prioritise their potential, can build capacity to fully develop their resources and then follow through with active implementation of practical steps to realise their ambition. ”

Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “It is important to recognise that many farm households have a source of off-farm employment and, in many of these households the off-farm income is important, or critical in sustaining the farm household. Whilst the economic benefits of off-farm employment are obvious there are a wide variety of other benefits associated with working off-farm including the development of new skills, exposure to new experiences and ideas, and the social benefits of interacting with others. “

Head of Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme, Prof Cathal O’Donoghue presented a paper on Off-Farm Employment Challenges for Irish Farm Households. He pointed out that 15 years of growth in off-farm employment for farmers was wiped out in the 3 year period post crisis. He said that education and skill levels are an important driver of employment and vulnerability, with those on the lowest skill level 5 times more likely to lose an off-farm job in a year than those with the highest skill level.

Prof O’Donoghue noted that:

  • While vulnerability, as measured by farmers without a viable farm income and without off-farm employment, was more pronounced for pension age, it remains an important issue for people of working age
  • Reliance on construction employment remains a challenge for off-farm employment and a challenge in relation to reskilling
  • Employment growth since the lowest point in early 2012 has seen increased employment in manufacturing, services, and in particular in agriculture
  • The Border area was the most challenged region in relation to working age vulnerability
  • However worrying increase in “Strong” Agricultural areas, where those in dairy have seen higher viability but with other farmers being affected more strongly than in other areas
  • We see more resilience in areas with stronger part-time farming tradition such as in the West

Dr. Fiona Thorne of Teagasc outlined the latest Teagasc, National Farm Survey statistics on the viability of farming in Ireland. Dr. Thorne told delegates at the conference that the proportion of economically viable farms in 2013 was 35%, which was a slight decrease over the previous year. A further 32% of farm households in 2013 could be considered sustainable due to the presence of off-farm income.
Dr. Throne said: “Based on these figures, over one third of all farm households in Ireland could be considered vulnerable, given that they are not economically viable and neither the farm operator nor the spouse holds an off-farm job.”

Dairy and tillage farms are the most viable, and the proportion of economically viable dry stock farms remains low, at about 15% for cattle rearing farms. The regional disparities were also very apparent in the presentation, with Dr. Thorne saying that the West and Border regions of the country were at most risk of been considered vulnerable. Forty three per cent of farms in the Border region were considered vulnerable compared to only 19% in the South West of the country.

At the conference Teagasc launched its ‘Options Plus’ programme. It’s aimed at supporting farm families to further develop their farm enterprises, develop alternative farm enterprises, or provide them with guidance on where to access supports that will enable them secure off-farm employment. The Options programme works with farm families to help them evaluate their farm enterprise and the households’ needs in terms of income, quality of life, the future for the farm and family.

New Diversification Videos were also launched by Teagasc. Eight new case-studies of farm diversification are featured and the videos will be used as a support for anyone interested in developing an additional on-farm enterprise.