One of the areas of future agricultural policy in NI where we have yet to see any significant detail is around what DAERA will do to encourage young people into the industry.

In the last CAP reform in 2015, the EU came forward with a young farmers’ top-up payment. It initially added around €81/ha on up to 90ha for farmers under 40, taking over as head of holding for the first time. An eligible applicant could claim the money for up to five years, although with 2% of the total NI budget allocated to the scheme (approximately €6.5m), as more young farmers came in, this top-up was reduced in subsequent years.

While the payment was a useful addition to income, it was insignificant when compared to what some were able to receive from the regional reserve.

It allowed a young farmer applicant to go straight to the NI average of €330/ha on an unlimited area of land (a cap of 90ha was introduced in 2021).

Some large farms were able to split the business, allowing existing entitlements to be stacked on a small number of hectares, with a young farmer going straight to the NI average on the rest. These people worked the system, and it brought a big windfall of cash.

Whatever DAERA does in the future, we can be sure that a similar arrangement will not be on the cards again.

Instead, the DAERA policy documents refer to a “generational renewal programme” that will include “planning for farm succession, development of the successor and maintaining support for both generations”.

In the past, we have seen higher grant rates, and other schemes to help young farmers invest.

However, while we need to encourage young people into our industry, we also need to be mindful of the career opportunities that exist outside of farming.

Many farmers work incredible hours, but that work ethic might not be the best way to encourage your son or daughter to take over the farm. In some cases, a bit less would do.

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