This is a very important Commencement matter and I thank the Minister for coming to the House to brief us on it. There has been a lot of discussion. From looking at some parliamentary questions last year, I note this issue or variations on some sort of scheme or incentivised scheme for retirement have been raised. I have read the Minister's various responses and I think things have evolved somewhat since. There has been recent coverage in the Irish Farmers' Journal and many provincial newspapers of the suggestion that the Minister is considering a retirement scheme for dairy farmers. What I am looking for today is some clarity on this.
As someone who has attended the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister will be conscious of this matter and I thank him for his attendance before that committee. As Minister, he takes a significant and active interest in it. I also want to use this opportunity to thank him and acknowledge his engagement with farmers on the ground. I have been at a number of marts he has attended. To get into the ring and engage in a meaningful, very focused and simple way with farmers in the best public space they know - the mart - has been very impressive. There has been significant feedback about the fact the Minister actually went there. When you go into the, dare I say it, circle, you do not know what is going to hit you. The Minister was brave enough to do it and bring his message to the people directly involved in agriculture, and I acknowledge that.
The Minister will know that Macra na Feirme and, in particular, its president, John Keane, who is a very dynamic individual, have continued to highlight the importance of the challenges around retirement and the need to bring young farmers into play. In any scheme for the dairy sector, we must be conscious of a number of things. They include the challenges around the environment, and they are challenges. No final decision has been made. There are many ways of dealing with the environment and how it interacts with the farming community and its incomes. We must move people at a certain pace that best fits their set of circumstances. Macra na Feirme has continued to highlight the need to secure transitional issues around farming and a younger generation in farming, which is a challenge. I am deeply concerned about the current percentage of about 6% of farmers under the age of 35. What does this tell us? This is an enormous challenge for us. However, there are new ways of doing agriculture and new methods. There is diversification in agriculture. Alongside all of that must be incentives, ongoing learning, knowledge and engagement of different practices, here and internationally.
Teagasc has a major role in that. The level of qualification of our young farmers is very impressive. Many farmers are engaging with the green certificate and many are not deriving all their income from agriculture. They have off-farm incomes. It is part of a new model, although it is not ideal for everyone. There are different horses for different courses.
This is the complexity, the diversity and challenge around agriculture for farm families, rural development and income. At the same time people must not feel they are being pushed off the land. An older generation may be able to transfer knowledge and experience. For those people what we are talking about is not just their farm or place of work; it is their home, their community, their language and their lifestyle. We must understand all these complexities when we speak about rural communities and agriculture.
I am asking the Minister to share with us his ideas on the proposed dairy farmer retirement scheme, how it is progressing, the timelines and how he would like to see it rolled out. I thank the Minister.