Surveying the future of agriculture

From left: Trevor McCarthy, Chairperson, Rural Professional Group; Mairead McGuinness MEP; Thia Hennessey, Teagasc; and, Conor O’Donovan, Society Director of Policy & Communications.

There was a large turnout at the Society’s third annual Agriculture Conference in Portlaoise. Trevor McCarthy, Chairperson of the Rural Professional Group, welcomed attendees and introduced the day’s speakers.
Thia Hennessy from Teagasc spoke on the economic outlook for agriculture. Thia looked at agricultural land markets in Ireland, and presented figures showing the wide variation and volatility in farm incomes, saying that the current income trend is upwards and outlooks are good. For the longer term, demand in developing markets is expected to grow, and climate change will also have a significant impact. Dairy is considered the most promising farm industry once quotas are removed, but land mobility, and the possible entry of up to 2,500 more dairy farmers, will influence outcomes.
Terry O’Leary of O’Leary Building Surveyors and Chartered Town Planners addressed the topic of on-site wastewater treatment systems. Between 90 and 95% of homeowners have now registered under the new legislation, and inspections will begin in 2014. If inspectors identify a problem, homeowners can apply for grant aid for remedial work. The EPA Code of Practice for Single Houses 2012 contains the guidelines for new systems. Terry finished by pointing out that these issues will have a significant impact on property values.
Mairead McGuinness MEP addressed issues around CAP reform. She said that the challenge for governments is to interpret and implement the options available, and the Irish Government has not yet announced its decisions in a number of areas, so it is difficult to predict the precise impact on Irish farming. The principal aim is that farmers on low incomes should see incomes increase over time and farmers on higher incomes should see a decrease. She did not believe that these changes will bring about a higher volume of land sales, or a significant change in values.
Donncha Collins of FDC Group covered a range of issues around estate and tax planning. He emphasised the importance of the quantity surveyor’s role, which he feels is undervalued. He discussed a range of areas where the role of the expert valuer was crucial. He urged those present to promote themselves in this role, emphasising their expertise and the regulatory structures that now govern them. He also discussed the auctioneer’s role in farm incorporation, particularly in the valuation of land, assets and goodwill.
The final speaker was the Society’s Director of Regulation Brian O’Driscoll, who updated the audience on PSRA compliance. To assist members in negotiating the minefield of new regulations, the Society has prepared a range of help sheets, which are available on the Society’s website, as well as a guide for consumers.
A lively Q&A session followed, bringing to an end an informative and interesting day.