McCallister confirms his priorities for new Land Mobility Programme
(L-R) UFU President Barclay Bell, Land Mobility Project Manager John McCallister and YFCU President James Speers
The potential for growth within local agriculture will only be fully realised if every available acre is farmed efficiently and sustainably, according to John McCallister, the man in charge of the new Land Mobility Programme. This unique service is jointly hosted by the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).
McCallister added: “Land mobility has always been an issue. Only 6 per cent of farmers are under 35 years of age while 26 per cent are over 65.
“This age imbalance is compounded by the fact that many older farmers do not have a farming successor. Collaborative arrangements can be the key to delivering growth within our farming sectors while also addressing the age imbalance. The new service will facilitate various collaborative arrangements between farmers tailored to suit their specific farming situation, including farm partnerships, shared farming and long term leasing.”
McCallister was speaking at the launch of the new programme, which will run for an initial two year period. “The new service will, genuinely, break new ground,” he added. “And all of the initial signs, regarding the future success of the project are extremely positive. Within the space of a few weeks, I have already received 80 enquiries from both landowners and those wishing to develop a career in production agriculture.
“Of event more significance is the fact that, of those seeking to use the service, there is an almost 50:50 split between well-established farmers wishing to look at new land management options and those wanting to develop new career opportunities within agriculture.”
McCallister said that he would be getting in touch with all of those people enquiring about the new service over the coming weeks. “My role will be to bring the various parties together and then to look at the various collaborative farming options that are possible. But this will not be a one-cap-fits-all approach. Every business relationship will be different. A way forward that fits one pairing may not be the solution that suits others. And I fully recognised this dynamic from the outset. Trust is also important when it comes to the development of a successful business relationship. And this takes time to grow. So we are looking a slow burn approach, when it comes to the development of the Land Mobility Programme, in that general sense.”
McCallister confirmed the success of the land mobility model in other regions. “This is already the case in the Republic of Ireland, courtesy of the programme developed by Macra na Feirme. And I see no reason why it is not possible to replicate what has been done in that part of the world here in Northern Ireland.”
Over the coming months McCallister will be specifically responsible for creating a database of interested older and younger farmers that can help lead to the development of appropriate ‘shared farming’ opportunities.
The service will outline available options and will develop an agreement based on personal priorities and circumstances.“Share farming, in that formal context, is only one of the options that can be considered, in the context of the Land Mobility Service,” said McCallister. “The scheme itself will be every flexible in nature. The reality is that large acreages of land in Northern Ireland are not meeting their production potential. The conacre system is partly to blame for this, as it gives the person renting the ground no long term security. Land leasing, based on agreements lasting up to five or ten years, is one way around this problem. And the land Mobility Service can make this happen.”
McCallister concluded: “We also need to see changes to the tax system, which would encourage land owners to actively engage in leasing arrangements. This has already happened in the Republic of Ireland. And the impact this is having, in terms of facilitating young people’s entry into production agriculture, is tangible.”
John McCallister can be contacted on: 07833 668602.