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In 2004 the percentage of agriculture that make up the nations GNP was 5%. As of the end of 2015 it was 2%. The numbers speak for themselves.

The agriculture sector of Ireland in relation to overall national industry has shrunk.  This certainly is not good news for farming communities that they will further come under increasing pressure even more with the possible onslaught of the TTIP treaty and the quiet effects of that which Fine Gael and Labour are unwilling to mention. At its height during previous good times, the Agri-sector exports from Ireland was approaching €9 billion. This made up for 10% of all our 2008 exports.

Certainly a lot more farmers are under more serious pressure this last few years alone. The suicide rate amid the farming working communities has risen sharply. In 2010 before Fine Gael and Labour took to government office the rate was already in a rise of 25%. The issue of suicide among the farming community was further raised in 2012 when a farmer and junior minister at the Department of Agriculture, sadly also passed away.

As of the end of 2014 more than half of Irelands farmers have been directly affected by suicide, either in their immediate family or community (by that stage Ireland is on record as having the fourth highest overall suicide rate in Europe, with 10 people taking their own life every week).

An Irish Examiner and ICMSA (Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association) farming survey exposed that 53% of farmers had been effected by suicide. 16% stated they had experienced it either in their immediate or wider family. More than a third had experience of suicide among the local community or neighbours. A fifth of farmers between the age of 35 and 44 had lost family or friend.

There are of course many factors as to why this was happening and sadly continues. Many of the factors have been researched that have led to these unfortunate losses in lives to the farming community of Ireland.

On the minds of those in business, are strongly economic and social issues. Healthcare costs, serious rural crime and vandalism also strong emerge as factors along with mortgage arrears, possible drug and alcohol abuse plays on the minds of farmers as they try go about their daily livelihood. On the topic of farming livelihood, the average family farm income was found to be less than €26,000.

The President of Ireland himself referred to this as he expressed in 2014 his own deep concern over a tide of lost lives in rural communities. Speaking while opening a National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois he added:

Of course, this average glosses over very different realities between various sectors and regions of Ireland, but it remains a revealing indicator of the difficult financial situation in which too many Irish farmers find themselves.”

We should to try help this unfortunate area of depression and serious pressure. We could look to instigate a formal section within the Dept. of Agriculture to assisting further the Irish farming community in realistic ways to sway a tide of sad family and friend loss into much lower numbers. Again here, this is real lives we are talking about. These people if politicians want to be just financial about it too, are our additional national assets. Let’s cherish them better!

UP proposes we reach out direct to the farming organisations, unions and directly affected communities, to see what really needs to be done on the farming soil to make things easier for those in this business. This would mean not just having a far off capital city section doing all the work but through already established health care offices around the country, a new set of caring mental health protocols and financial help procedures could be initiated at a more local level.

Farmers and their families that also need assistance when their backs are against a crime, financial or other factor wall, including education costs for their offspring, are to be reached out to more, to help ease an every growing serious of burdens placed upon a farming community that itself is under industry strain. Health care offices and their staff would be additional resourced to cope with any inquires. This at times might place already over stretched offices also under pressure. To cope with this, we could seek to localise the hiring of additional staff which would be from a background of the matter they would be tasked to assist in. Further help in this could be sought from better instigated communication also from farming organisations and direct individual on a more regular basis.

It is clear that the farming community needs to be listened more to and their needs understood. While throwing money in some areas is always helpful to a section of a farming community, it’s also those that fall outside many areas uncovered, those that slip through the gaps, that helps leads to unfortunate events later.

Ireland once had a far more thriving farming community. Evan as recently during the good times, the agriculture sector employed nearly 150,000 people or 7.5% of the total Irish workforce. From the thirties and forties onward as Ireland grew more industrialised and external factors beyond Irelands shores, played a big factor in reducing the percentage of farming activity in relation to Irish GNP, the end results have eventually brought Irelands farming community to the numbers that it exists of today.

There has been a continuing increase of families moving away from rural communities to urban situations. This has come about by a dying lack of rural services. Post offices, health centres, Garda stations, banks, rural veterinary offices, even local schools have closed complete up or simply been once again moved to larger towns and cities. These occurrences do nothing to assist those left behind trying to survive in rural communities.

Such events just make life harder and add to an already strain that can be largely also economic too as prices of feed, animal medical care costs and in general it’s found that dividends of higher volume output come from those gone to the industry sector rather than agriculture.

A rising people of Ireland and its representatives needs to look further at supporting our rural communities more. We should do this because of a number of good sound reasons.

  • The first would be so that families and those they could additional employ back into the agriculture sectors, could easier survive and turn a greater yield – if they were given the assistance that its clear they very much need more of.
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  • Secondly, as aforementioned, in trying to reduce Ireland’s national suicide rate, by improving a positive rural outlook through creating more employment opportunities in the agriculture field, an end effect should be a drop in lives lost to the farming community. Always a good thing there too – as let’s be honest – the more lives lost to the sector, the less chance of it increasing in national GNP and personal/local business output?
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  • Thirdly, from a national perspective of “green Ireland” and a once larger thriving farming identity the country had, a revival of a more positive farming community could help re-establish the province’s individual cultural identity on the national and international stage. A further financial side-effect of this could be utilised by the tourist industry if we were to all succeed in making things better in the rural districts.

We need to get down and really start talking – but more so listening – to those that are working and sometimes just surviving in these struggling areas. Political parties previously established will say this is being done already – and they would be correct to a degree. However, if it was being done right, the current problems we have in the rural and agriculture community would not exist or not even to the degree that they do at present. We need to look at the current process of addressing this matter and making it better.

What is wrong could be that (a) someone is doing some talking and not a lot of listening and thus not instigating more helpful responses or that are effective as they should be or (b) they are doing a lot of talking with no listening – thus nothing at all is really being done there either.

We do not have all the answers but the start of any solution, is to recognise the problem. More clearly needs to be done. This can only come by better interaction between those that are more knowledgeable in their respective areas related to where the fundamental problems exist. Instead of poor listening representatives rushing in with all manner of solutions trying to sound like state experts, we should more utilise those that are the experts and have experience, to analyse what’s further needed.

We have got to recognise that there are incoming problems for the farming community that need to further addressed also. Rising production costs, instability regarding prices, an unfair margin imbalance between producers, processors and eventual tertiary retailers weigh heavy on the sector. They alone are having a further knock-on effect upon farmers and their standard of living.

Many are struggling to survive – instead of working on more enjoying life while they also work!

UP would like to see elected representatives attempt to make further inroads between groups and associations like the IFA, ICSA (Irish Cattle & Sheep farmers Association) and those on a European level and further, to facilitate better stability across exports to foreign markets.

These would further include ones beyond the limited range of those encompassed within the dangerous TTIP Treaty. We cannot simply lay all our ‘eggs in one basket’ there too much anyway – even if the TTIP Treaty was a trustworthy option in any respect.

Another aspect that we should address would be the issue of farm safety. This clearly needs to be looked at given the unfortunate number of accidents and deaths over the last few years. If it’s by further education, instigation of greater safety protocols or consultation with others more expert in this field, we have got to work on improving daily farming practices.

In doing research and holding conversations with those in the agriculture sector, UP found that there is a degree of concern over the average age now of farmers in Ireland. Presently its based around 57 years of age. According to a CSO census of agriculture, the average age of farmers in Ireland in 2012 was fifty-four for men and fifty-eight for women, compared with 51 in 2000.

People are living longer but what is also a factor is that Ireland’s youth often see the farming sector as a viable option from a number of angles. Additionally, they do not wish to enter a commitment where long hours of manual labour with less yield and greater pressure factors means they are always on a defensive position to try hold onto that which might also be passed onto them from their family. If more young people are to be incentivised, we could work to try find a way to increase yield income potential – but also show them (and how more so, earlier through further appropriate expert instruction, beyond a later training college) this is possible before they decide to work in the industry or turn away to another employment sector. Greater reach out to our youth and assistance is required.

Another concern that needs to be addressed is the area of dairy expansion. There are upcoming problems in this area alone from the factor that availability of land for rent or purchase has become problematic. With a total of 0.5% of land in the country switching hands, a low level of land mobility is leading to increasing further pressure on the industry. This is of great concern given that (as just mentioned previously) any youth trying to look positively towards working in an agricultural role, might turn away from this one important area if they immediate identify problems that from their outset, they feel they cannot overcome or there is no support to try and resolve the issue.

In relation to incentivising the youth employment sector of Irish farming, UP feels we should incorporate further opportunities of those thinking of entering the sector, to develop entrepreneurial skills which could then be additionally utilised in conjunction with their end-product. Help them to try further afield sell their produce or secondary production material to greater or more specialised markets also. If Ireland is to gain any further opportunity of any pre-existing trade agreements, open markets or even a rammed in dreaded TTIP Treaty, we must best be prepared to utilise any home advantage. We need to be making this happen.
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