Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assembly candidate and the former Chairman of the Stormont Committee on Employment and Learning, has said the new Farming Department and Minister “must do their utmost to ensure that as many younger farmers are encouraged to remain in the agricultural industry”.
Mr Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, is a Past President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and Past Chairman of the influential Rural Youth Europe organization.
Mr Swann issued his challenge after he recently addressed the Ulster Farmers’ Union Hustings event, where he highlighted one of the main difficulties was the lack of younger farmers who were still in the industry, or being attracted to the industry.
Mr Swann said: “DARD statistics may show the average age of a Northern Ireland farmer to be 55, but that does not take into consideration that they stop counting once a farmer reaches 65.
“We need to be support our active, progressive younger farmers and move away from the creation of paper new entrants and restrictive young farmer definitions for the sake of subsidies.
“We need to keep these men and women farming in Northern Ireland. Academia refers to the ‘brain drain’ and farming is suffering a ‘talent drain’ as I know of many of my age group, good friends through the Young Farmers, who are now farming in England, Scotland and France.
“When the new Assembly returns after the May poll, the new Farming Minister will need to implement a staunchly pro-active policy to encourage our younger farmers not just to remain in the industry, but to keep on farming in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Swann.
The North Antrim UUP man also pointed to a recent European Commission report which showed that nearly 61% of EU young farmers consider the availability of land for purchase and 57% the availability of land for rent as the most difficult challenges they face, often due to issues such as land ownership laws, inheritance rules and land prices.