Covid-19 accelerates technology usage across farming community
The increasing role of technology in farming is evident, according to an annual Farm Report conducted by ifac, Ireland’s farming, food and agribusiness professional services firm.
Over 70% of farmers say they want online buying and selling in the marts to continue post-pandemic.
With 1,700 farmers across the country participating in the survey, it has revealed the true impact of Covid-19 on the farming community, from the accelerated adoption of technology on the farm to the rise in social isolation and loss of community engagement.
Seven out of eight (86%) farmers say broadband is now essential, making the rollout of rural broadband an urgent requirement across the country for business tasks including banking. One in two (52%) farmers use herd and breeding software on their farms.
When it comes to farmer wellbeing, three in four (75%) say they will take the Covid-19 vaccine (with 19% unsure and 6% not planning to take a vaccine) and almost a third (31%) of farmers risk burnout by not taking a holiday (for at least a week) in the last three years or more.
Also, three in four (75%) say Covid-19 has negatively impacted their social life, and two out of five (42%) say they don’t know who to call for support.
The survey also highlights the opportunities for farmers in relation to their preparation for the future. For example, for the third year in a row the survey results indicate that farmers of all ages are continuing to put off succession planning. Less than a quarter (24%) have identified a future successor, with almost one in three (31%) saying their farm business is not viable enough.
Additionally, three out of five (58%) don’t complete any budgets or cash flows. Of those who employ non-family farm labour, only 21% have written contracts of employment in place and only 17% have an employee handbook. Less than a quarter (24%) know how much they need to have in their pension to provide a €200 per week income from the age of 65.
Other key takeaways include:
- Two out of five (40%) don’t have a Will in place
- 81% say they will still be farming in five years (12% don’t know)
- As an employer, over 20% say it’s hard to find people with the right skills
- Three in four dairy farmers have a positive outlook for their sector. However, only two out of five farmers have a positive outlook in other farming sectors
- Only one in four dairy farmers believe that their farm is not providing sufficient income to support their family
- Nine out of 10 beef farmers believe their farm isn’t providing sufficient income to support their family
- 84% will maintain or increase herd numbers over the next three years
- Only one in five (21%) say Covid-19 has negatively impacted their farm income
- Only 5% of farmers feel that Brexit will have no impact on the farming sector.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue TD said the report is "very timely and comprehensive", highlighting some of the key issues facing Irish farmers.
"As part of the country’s essential services, the whole farming and agri sector has played a key role throughout Covid-19. Despite farmers coping with many issues in 2020 from Brexit, ongoing CAP reform, the global pandemic and climate change, it is heartening to see almost three out of five farmers have a positive outlook on the sector and how technology is playing an increasing role on Irish farms, something that is supported in the Government’s ongoing plans for a balanced rural development," the Minister said.
“On climate change and land use, our farmers have already shown great leadership in this area and are actively contributing to the national effort to address our shared climate challenge. I am confident they will continue to do this.
"On agri-environment funding, it has been the Government’s key priority to ensure the transition to the next CAP runs smoothly and that farmers can continue to access current schemes this year without interruption.
“This past year has shown us that our mental health is important - we have all had to dig deep to find resilience and hope throughout Covid. I would strongly advise farmers to reach out to friends, neighbours or supporting agencies," he added.