Acknowledging Hard to Reach Farmers: Cases from Ireland
While acknowledging the positive role farm advisory services play in agricultural development, the reality is that many farm households are disconnected from these services thus failing to benefit from supports to farm-level decision-making. This article provides a better understanding of those farmers who either do not engage with the farm advisory services or else engage at a very low level. Failure to recognise the role and importance of these hard to reach farmers in Ireland provides an important backdrop to this issue where the national agricultural development strategy implies meeting targets through the more progressive and ‘service-reached’ farmers. The article draws on findings from four studies which identified and examined farmers who were ‘hard to reach’ by farm advisory services in Ireland. These studies collected data through farmer interviews and focus groups with farm advisors. They are augmented by the outputs of a workshop with farm advisors from a number of EU member states which focused on hard to reach farmers. ‘Hard to reach farmers’ are defined as those who either do not use the public or private advisory services or use a minimum level of the services accessible to them. The hard to reach farmers comprise just over half of all Irish farmers and fall into two distinct groups: those who are elderly, with no successor and no intention to develop their farms; and those who are relatively young and have off-farm work. The article suggests that advisory agencies can either establish or increase engagement with many of these farmers by reconfiguring how and when they deliver services. This new and increased engagement is regarded as important in achieving the broader goals of sustainable agricultural and rural development in Ireland and has relevance at the wider EU and global levels.
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