I am on a sabbatical from my work at UVM Extension and am here in Ireland studying with Teagasc, the Ag and Food Development Authority— kind of like our US land grant system. It conducts research, extension, and teaching. (For more information on my sabbatical study leave, please go to the UVM Extension Viability blog.) While here, I have been noticing the differences and similarities in the issues and topics regarding farmers and farming in Ireland and the US.
There has been quite a bit of concern in the States about the average age of farmers rising higher and higher. According to the 2007 US Census of Ag, considering farmers from all states, 5% of the ‘principal operators’ of farms are under the age of 35. While 30% of the ‘principal operators’ are 65 or older. The average age was 57. Vermont showed 5% of principal operators under 35, and 26% over age 65, with an average age of 56.5
The farm press here is concerned about the very same thing. I thought that the US was in better shape than Ireland, until I studied the numbers. According to the 2010 Irish Census of Ag, 6% of the family farms are held by people under the age of 35; 26% of the farms are held by people 65 or older.
The 2 countries are very close together on these measures, with the US having a slightly lower percentage of younger, and a higher amount of older farmers. It will be interesting to see what the results of the just completed US Census of Agriculture reports.
One bright spot on this from the 2007 US Census was that there were nearly 300,000 new farms that started between 2002 and 2007. Ireland does not report this number. And from 2002 to 2007, the number of farms in the US increased by a little over 3%. While Ireland showed a 1% decrease in farm numbers from 200 to 2010.
‘New Entrants’ or ‘beginning farmers here in Ireland are quite often returning family members. With the Irish economy really hurting, and many people out of work, the thought of some income makes the farm look pretty good. Europe has had a dairy marketing quota for 30 years, and it is set to disappear in 2015. Many crop farmers and beef farmers are looking at dairy as a way to increase their income. There is a big push in Ireland for farm business planning BEFORE investing in more farm assets. You’ll find similar thinking on the Vermont New Farmer Project website!
What about the weather here? July was hot and dry. There were about 3 weeks of temperatures up around 80, with no rain. This does not happen very often in Ireland. The last time it was this hot was in 2006 but not for so long. This summer weather was an official drought, with farmers irrigating and hauling water to livestock. There have been showers and cooler temperatures for the last couple of weeks, bringing smiles back onto faces. “Lovely,” they called the rain. I don’t think the same word was used to describe the rain in Vermont this past July!
There is also a similar growing interest in locally sourced foods. Here are pictures of blackberries and gooseberries from the Carlow Farmers Market (with a fig from a street corner). An organization called Good Food Ireland promotes, “Irish ingredient led cuisine,” and the places, restaurants and markets where you can find locally sourced food. Check out the VT Fresh Network for a similar effort!