Older Farmers Shut Out As Supports Move To Online

Digital-only access to information and applications a barrier to thousands.

Thousands of older farmers can not access State and business services and supports due to the increasing shift of information and application forms to online.

Dubbed the ‘grey divide’, those without digital skills or access to digital technology have never faced as many barriers to services and information that affects their daily lives. Photo Getty

With some 42,000 farmers now over the age of 65, Age Action research suggests that some 25pc of this group don’t use the internet, and this rises to 56pc for those over 75.

The rollout of the new Cap relies on an unprecedented level of digital engagement and many farmers are reliant on family members or advisors providing information on new supports and regulations, while also helping to apply for new schemes.

Celine Clarke, Head of Advocacy at Age Action, said it really undermines many older people’s ability to participate and to do their work when a digital-first approach is taken to introducing a new policy or service.

INHFA President Vincent Roddy said the IT skills of farmers of a certain age (normally over 50) are often limited and unless they have family members or neighbours to assist them, engagement with the Department of Agriculture is restricted.

For those without these supports, their choice is to engage the help of a farm advisor, not apply for schemes or try and work through issues with Department staff via telephone or through posted correspondence.

“Unfortunately, we are concerned that this assistance is not there and the trend seems to be that more and more people/farmers are being pushed online, much to their frustration, annoyance and cost,” said Mr Roddy.

​ICMSA President Pat McCormack said there had to be a degree of understanding and allowance made for older farmers who don’t have access to computers or smartphones or who don’t trust their own ability to use them competently.

Acknowledging the administrative benefits of switching to ‘online only’, Mr McCormack said that some arrangements should be made for those unable to go online and engage in that way.

‘Sometimes, not having digital skills is related to having poor numeracy or literacy skills as well’.
25% of farmers over 65 years old don’t use the internet

“I’d be the same as every farmer in Ireland insofar as I know several older neighbouring farmers who might not be comfortable or have the computer literacy to engage with any degree of confidence,” he said.

“Very often, they’ll get a younger relative who’d have the know-how to go online and complete the applications or forms, but there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who might not have recourse to that help. It seems obvious that the Department should have a dedicated team or hotline that can deal with ‘offline’ applications or send out ‘hard copy’ forms and then guide, by phone, the farmer applicants through the process.”

The Department said it understands Cap changes require additional communication and the schemes are sometimes complex.

“We aim to provide the best possible customer service to all our clients to ensure that participants in these schemes have a good understanding of their terms and conditions,” it said in a statement.

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Ciaran Moran – 07/02/2023)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rural Enterprise Skillnet
Rural Enterprise Skillnet

The Rural Enterprise Skillnet is funded by member companies and the Training Networks Programme, an initiative of Skillnets Ltd. funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

Read More