Part-time farmers should be held in higher regard than they currently are.
That is according to Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, who raised the matter in Seanad Eireann in recent days.
She told the house that “most farmers in Ireland are in fact part-time”.
“And there is nothing wrong with that,” she added. “Some of the best farmers I know are part-time. Yet, the term ‘hobby farmer’ is bandied around in relation to part-time farmers like some sort of insult.”
Furthermore, with a levelling of EU direct payments in the form of convergence and other measures, she said it is “quite likely” that we will see more part-time farmers in the future.
“Some bemoan that. However, I believe it is something which should be welcomed, encouraged, and indeed supported.”
By comparison, the minister questioned the regard in which ‘productive or commercial’ farming is held and the effect it is having on the environment.
“Perhaps, we should not be quite so quick to consider the drive for more and more production as an unquestionable good,” she suggested.
During her address, she then referenced hedges. The senator pointed out that data from Teagasc has indicated that 90% of hedges on intensive farms are classified as low quality.
She said this exhibits issues such as impoverished ground flora, low species diversity, and happiness.
“And increasingly on such farms, there are also other pressures. Rising energy, fertiliser and feed costs have impacted farmers across the country.”
“Our pig sector is in huge difficulty. Our grassland farmers are facing very challenging decisions in terms of fertility inputs this year.”
‘True’ custodians of the land
The minister concluded that “it shouldn’t matter whether a farmer is full-time or part-time, rather that they do more than produce a profit at any cost”.
“Let’s start acknowledging those farmers who see themselves as true custodians of the land – as managers of enterprises, yes – but also as caretakers who are just passing through, determined to leave to the next generation land, which has been nurtured, regenerated, and enriched.