On the morning of 25 January, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young Italian farmers from Coldiretti. They were on a flying visit to learn about Irish Agriculture.

Here, they had a busy few days, visiting the farms of Laura Hannon in Meath, Thomas Hayes in Tipperary and Shane Fitzgerald in Waterford.

Before I go any further, I want to thank all of the host farmers for opening up their farms and engaging with our Italian friends. Our host farmers, in addition to highlighting what is happening on the ground, are the best ambassadors that any of us could wish for.

Young farmers

I met the Coldiretti group on their last day in the lobby of their hotel, and we had a detailed discussion on the similarities between farming for young farmers in Ireland and Italy.

There are also a few similarities between Macra and Coldiretti as organisations. We were both founded in 1944 and, consequently, both have important birthdays this year to celebrate.

In addition to our organisations having longevity in common, there are similarities between the members of both organisations too: both are teeming with young farmers who want to farm, who want to farm in a sustainable manner and who want to have a future on the land.

Land access

The third area of common interest relates to the pressures that young farmers or young people who have an ambition to become farmers are facing.

Yes, it’s something Macra has mentioned once or twice before, and will continue to mention: access to land.

The farmers we met were from the north of Italy, and just as Ireland does not have the capability to produce more land, Italy faces the same problem. It seems competition for land in Italy is a major issue for young farmers, and the competition comes from many sectors, as indeed it does here.

A particular area of concern for the group was the wholesale purchase of land by solar energy producers to create solar farms. In doing this, these producers reduce the land available for the growing of food.

Competing for land

Competing against an established farmer with a strong line of credit for land is difficult; competing against a multinational energy producer is nigh on impossible.

Recently in the news, we see something similar happening here. Whole housing estates are being bought up by international investment funds – an individual who aspires to own their own home has no hope against institutional investors.

From a Coldiretti perspective, the fear is that energy production is taking precedence over food production. From an Irish perspective, we have already seen that food production is not as high a priority as it should be.

And in some cases, we see that the individual is not as important as the large institutional investors.

Mick Curran