The main focus of the report in question is on the impact of the economic downturn on off-farm employment patterns among farmers. It also reports briefly on employment trends in the agriculture sector between 2004 and 2009 as reported in the quarterly national household survey. Using this source, the report found the number employed in the sector declined in 2004 to 2005, then remained stable until the third quarter of 2007, increased from this point to the end of 2008 and declined again in 2009.
The availability of off-farm employment has been affected by the difficulties in the broader economy. This is leading to difficulties for those farm families who were previously dependent on off-farm employment, particularly in the construction sector, in a similar way to non-farm families also affected by unemployment. The impact of this on participation in farming itself is not clear, as reflected in the fluctuations in the referred figures.
While the merits of any career are to a large extent dependent on personal choice, the advantages of choosing a career in full-time farming are best served by facilitating an environment that makes a career in the sector a viable option.
In this respect, my Department has been active and committed to promoting and supporting the agrifood sector. For example, in 2009 direct payments to farmers totalled over €1.9 billion. This figure does not take account of capital investment and other grant payments which amounted to an additional €420 million. I also successfully sought the deployment of EU market support measures to underpin the weak dairy market last year and stabilise milk prices to farmers.
More generally, my policy of supporting the development of a competitive and sustainable agrifood sector is the best means of ensuring an attractive livelihood for full-time farmers. This policy has been expressed through the outlined farm level supports. It is also expressed through the investment assistance provided for the continued modernisation and development of the food-processing sector and through research and education services which have expended considerably in recent years.