Part-time farmers must not be forgotten in CAP reform

Published in The Farming Independent: February 12th 2020

Mike Brady.
Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.
Tel: 021- 45 45 120 email:

January is a month to review the year just past and to make plans for the new year ahead.

Many full-time farmers use the holiday period to switch into minimal operations mode, no new projects commenced, keep the ship floating along and get some rest and recuperation. Dairy farmers with spring calving herds get some rest before the spring mayhem, arable farmers are in between winter and spring crops. Most suckler-beef and sheep farmers are part-time, but the full-time ones are no different to their dairy or arable counterparts.

However, many part-time farmers use the holiday period to catch up on some farm physical and paper work. The annual leave from the 9 to 5 off-farm day job and the availability of the children, home on holiday from school or university provides a perfect opportunity catch up and clean up on the farm.

Part-time farming is the forgotten sector in Irish agriculture. Over 50pc of the 140,000 farmers in this country farm on a part-time basis i.e. either the farmer or spouse work off-farm to supplement household income. The vast majority are beef farmers, so they are recovering after a fairly rough year in 2019.

This will be compounded in 2020 & 2021as GLAS scheme payments run out before the next reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In fact, early soundings from the proposed reform raises further concerns for part-time farmers due to the text around the definition of an active or genuine farmer.

No income support is proposed for “those whose agricultural activity is an insignificant part of their overall economic activities or whose principal business activity is non-agricultural”. Tests on income and labour activity are suggested criteria for evaluation of “the genuine farmer” which would ultimately decide what subsidies, premia and grants are drawn by individual part-time farmers. This could have significant implications for the farm business finances on part-time farms.

It is vitally important for our industry to know and understand what motivates part-time farmers to farm. If we understand part-time farmers we can then make policy and plans for any potential changes in the upcoming CAP reform and protect this vital sector of the industry.

The success of long term leasing of agricultural land has caused many to question continuing the vocation of part-time farming. The tax driven leasing policy is a clear signal from government to part-time farmers that the transfer of land to larger full-time viable farmers is preferred.

Yes, we have small fragmented, farm holdings in Ireland, this measure is good for improving this aspect of the industry, but we must not forget the viability of the part-time farmer, failing to do so we could end up with vast tracts of land lying abandoned in parts of the country.

Hobby / lifestyle farmer

Hobby or lifestyle part-time farmers will not be affected with a reduction in farm subsidies or an increase in the work required to get subsidies. Income and profitability are not the priority on these farms. These farmers are good custodians of the land and are very often open to receiving knowledge and new technology. These farmers are often the best proponents of agri-environmental schemes. These part-time farmers must be included in any
future agricultural policy.

Part-time longing to be a full-time farmer

The part-time farmer longing to be a full-time farmer is the one most at risk in the CAP reform. Reduced or no subsidies would put a huge dent in this farmer’s future-plans and ambitions. In my opinion it would completely demotivate this type of part-time farmer. These part-time farmers are very valuable to our industry and must be protected.

Part-timer farmer by default

The part-time farmer by default most likely inherited a farm, they are really only coasting along farming against their will because they are not brave enough to exit farming by leasing out or selling the farm. Reduced or no subsidies would affect this type of part-time farmer, but would it affect them enough to exits the industry? I am not convinced they would exit the industry, these part-time farmers are a burden on the industry.

It appears there will be much more flexibility for individual member states to have national policy for distribution of funds under the new EU CAP reform. This surely is the perfect opportunity for government to put in place policies that acknowledge, support and encourage part-time farming. Genuine part-time farmers have lots to contribute to a vibrant agri-food industry.

The new year is a good time for part-time farmers to question why they are farming in the first place but more importantly to have a clear vision of where they see their farm business in 10 years from now.