The Government is fully committed to maintaining the highest possible number of viable full time and part-time farmers. This is the long-term strategy underpinning the Agri Food 2010 action plan.
By way of implementation of the action plan, the National Development Plan, 2000-2006 provides 8.5 billion for rural areas and includes almost 5 billion for expenditure specifically on development. Of specific importance to young farmers is the enhanced scheme of installation aid for which 38 million has been assigned in the NDP to encourage young farmers to take over holdings. This scheme provides for a premium of 9,523 which contributes to defraying start-up expenses of eligible young farmers. A total of 793 farmers have availed of this scheme. Coupled with the early retirement scheme this should assist in the earlier and more efficient transfer of land to younger farmers. In addition, a number of on-farm investment schemes with expenditure allocation totalling 329 million is provided for in the NDP in order to maximise production efficiency and ensure economic sustainability.
A range of tax and social welfare policy measures designed to help support farm families and to encourage the transfer of land to young trained farmers have been introduced since 1998.
Apart from the various financial incentives, I have emphasised the importance of education and training in making agriculture more attractive and rewarding as a career for young people. In this regard, Teagasc is currently implementing the recommendations of the task force that I established to review the training needs of the agriculture sector. A major step forward has been the mainstreaming of agricultural training in conjunction with the institutes of technology. Teagasc's vocational courses have been benchmarked and upgraded and are now nationally accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC. Teagasc also provides a comprehensive range of courses tailored to the needs of adult farmers. A multi-annual capital development programme, with Exchequer funding of 14 million in the period 2000-2002, is now being implemented to upgrade the facilities in the colleges.