Northern Ireland

Farmers under 40 to get voice on future

Alistair Armstrong and one of his lambs
Image caption Alistair Armstrong and one of his lambs

Young farmers are coming together to ensure their views are reflected in the future direction of the industry.

Around 20 of them under the age of 40 have been recruited to a new forum.

Its job is to feed their views into a debate about the long term shape of the industry.

Farmers in Northern Ireland are aged 58 on average and older members tend to be over-represented on industry bodies. Geoffrey Malcolmson is a dairy farmer.

Image caption Geoffrey Malcolmson in his County Down milking parlour

A civil engineer by training, he has returned home to Donaghmore, County Down, to take on the running of the family farm from his father.

He said succession is one of the issues facing those who want to get into farming.

"I'm very lucky here because I'm following a third generation farmer," he said.

Image caption Geoffrey and his father have agreed a succession plan

"Dad has been quite open about allowing me to continue and do my own thing and taking a back step as far as I want him to take."

But he said some of his friends were not able to follow a father into farming and some farmers had no obvious successor.

That meant land sometimes got locked up in a system of rolling short-term rental called conacre.

Image caption Roberta Simmons believes there is a future in farming

Beef farmer Roberta Simmons believes there is a future in farming for young people like her.

She too will serve on the forum established by the Ulster Farmers' Union.

One of four daughters, she and another relative now run the family beef farm near Annaclone, County Down.

She says the agricultural colleges are full of people who want to get into farming.

The challenge is to ensure there's something for those students when they graduate, she said.

"It's all about making sure there is that generational renewal and there are those young people coming through," she said.

Image caption Alistair prepares one of his rams for the Balmoral Show

In County Fermanagh, Alistair Armstrong runs a pedigree flock of Cheviot sheep near Tempo.

Uncertainty over the future of farming due to Brexit is causing concern but he has chosen to focus on the positive.

He said a growing population will need to be fed and if they want local quality food, farmers will have to be paid to produce it.

"Why would anybody do it and not expect to get paid for it, would someone working in an office do that? I don't think so," he said.

Image caption The average age of farmers in Northern Ireland is 58

He believes new trading opportunities with large markets such as the United States, China and India could deliver for farmers in Northern Ireland.

"Maybe we can utilise them," he added.