THE increasing role of technology in farming is evident, according to an annual farm report conducted by ifac, Ireland’s farming, food and agribusiness professional services firm.
With 1,700 farmers across the country participating in the survey, it has revealed the true impact of Covid-19 on the farming community, from the accelerated adoption of technology on the farm to the rise in social isolation and loss of community engagement.
Over 70% of farmers say they want online buying and selling in the marts to continue post-pandemic.
Seven out of eight (86%) farmers say broadband is now essential, making the rollout of rural broadband an urgent requirement across the country for business tasks including banking. One in two (52%) farmers use herd and breeding software on their farms.
When it comes to farmer wellbeing, three in four (75%) say they will take the Covid-19 vaccine (with 19% unsure and 6% not planning to take a vaccine) and almost a third (31%) of farmers risk burnout by not taking a holiday (for at least a week) in the last three years or more.
Also, three in four (75%) say Covid-19 has negatively impacted their social life, and two out of five (42%) say they don’t know who to call for support.
The survey also highlights the opportunities for farmers in relation to their preparation for the future. For example, for the third year in a row, the survey results indicate that farmers of all ages are continuing to put off succession planning; less than a quarter (24%) have identified a future successor, with almost one in three (31%) saying their farm business is not viable enough.
Additionally, three out of five (58%) don’t complete any budgets or cash flows; of those who employ non-family farm labour, only 21% have written contracts of employment in place and only 17% have an employee handbook; and less than a quarter (24%) know how much they need to have in their pension to provide a €200 per week income from the age of 65.
The farmer survey was conducted across all sectors and aspects of farming; 91% of respondents were male, 43% were aged 51-65 and 37% are aged 36-50. The sector with the strongest representation was beef, followed by dairy.
Gearoid Condon, Partner at ifac in West Cork said: ‘Like many industries, the farming community have had to adjust to the challenges and changes and our annual report shows just how Irish farmers have been affected. The adoption of technology has accelerated with tech now playing an increasingly important role in farm management. While less than a quarter of farmers say the pandemic has negatively impacted their farm income, and some have even been able to diversify their revenue streams during Covid, the findings also shine a stark light on the community disengagement and social isolation that many farmers are feeling all across the country.
‘There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of farming and concerns about the cost of Covid, the impact of Brexit on the wider economy, and the costs associated with tackling climate change weigh heavily on the minds of Irish farmers. Despite almost a third of Irish farmers saying they want to remain involved in the farm after retirement, for the third year in a row our survey shows they are slow to act in relation to succession planning – something necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of rural Ireland. However, there is also evidence of resilience with 81% saying they will still be farming in three years. The big opportunity for Irish farmers to enhance their profitability and secure their futures is planning.’