Farmer Focus: Not much better off after 38 years of farming

Almost the end of another year and the farm has been pretty much put to bed for a while. All winter crops are well established and spraying is up to date, so for me it’s now maintenance work, office work, and hopefully some time off.

I keep postponing looking at the results for this year as I know I will be disappointed. This leads me to reflect, not just on this year, but on the past 38 years I have been farming here.

I can’t help but wonder if I am any better off and am rapidly coming to a negative conclusion.

See also: read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

Over the years I have invested in the farm, improved it, changed farming models to react to the market and tried to keep myself educated and informed but despite all that, the bottom line doesn’t seem to improve much.

Oh, we have made an acceptable living from it, just about, but I never seem to have much left to put away for the future.

All in all it is a very modest return for a lot of investment, frustration and long hours, to produce a valuable and essential commodity that everyone needs to survive.

For a number of years now farmers have not been paid a realistic price for the food we produce, and little or no account is taken of production costs.

Brussels handout

This has left us almost totally dependent on a handout from Brussels and that surely cannot be sustainable. Is it any wonder that the average age of farmers is 58?

Recently, I was invited by the Young Farmers Clubs to participate in a discussion about the future of farming post-Brexit.

Many expressed concerns similar to my own, namely the lack of an acceptable level of profitability, but one of the questions was about opportunities and threats.

I believe we now have a unique opportunity to transform our industry to one that is much less dependant on financial support, more focused on the marketplace and, above all, sustainable.

The big threat is that we don’t make the most of this opportunity, in which case we should all just sell up for housing and retire. Merry Christmas to all!

Robert Moore farms on the Molenan Estate in Northern Ireland, where his family have farmed for more than 200 years. He switched to arable production in the late 1990s, away from beef and sheep. He still has a small suckler herd on non-suitable arable land.

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