A decade ago, droves of young Tyrone people were leaving the farming industry, but that trend has been dramatically reversed, according to latest figures.
In the past year, there were 60 applicants for a new farm business in County Tyrone, one of the highest totals in Northern Ireland, and a reversal of the trend during the building boom of the early 2000s, which saw a decline in the sector and the price of agricultural land plummet across the county.
According to an Ulster Farmers’ Union spokesperson, more and more young people are entering the business, bringing energy and innovative new ideas to the sector.
Agricultural courses at local colleges are now oversubscribed, so much so that many colleges now run part-time evening courses to meet demand. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has set up a special reserve fund to financially help new entrants.
“There has been a real push to bring in more young people into the industry with financial incentives and new courses established”, said the spokesperson, “so we’re not surprised to see a surge in the figures.”
“There are over 2,000 applicants for regional agricultural courses, with many of them oversubscribed.
“Farming is still Northern Ireland’s biggest industry, worth £4.1 billion annually, with farmers contributing £1.5 billion.”
She said there had been another big change. While women have always been the backbone of many farms, helping to keep them afloat behind the scenes, they are now rising to the fore.
“Farming is becoming more female, with many farms now succeeding to daughters rather than sons, as had traditionally been the case”, she said.
“We’re also seeing much more farm diversification from sons and daughters who are trying to carve out a niche on the family farm business, and maximise what they can produce from the land.
“They’re adding value to their crops and beef and diary products by making them organic or processing them. For example some farmers are now making their own ice-cream and cheese and selling them through farm shops.
However, she warned the industry was still a difficult one, economically.
“The market is still not delivering for farmers individually. A total of 87 percent of farmers’ incomes comes from subsidies such as the Single Farm Payment.”
Across Northern Ireland, the average price paid for farm land in the past year rose by 6% to £9,256 per acre, reflecting an increased demand across the island of Ireland, which saw on average a 5% rise in prices.
A total of 5,786 acres of farm land were sold in the North last year.