Farming in Ireland Overview

With fertile soils, a temperate climate and abundant rain water, Ireland has enviable natural advantages for farming the land to produce food, fibre and fuel. Aided by the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream, Ireland’s climate is particularly suited for the growth of ryegrass, an excellent and inexpensive feed for livestock. This simple comparative advantage is the basis for much of Ireland’s farming today.

The country also has a rich tradition of stockmanship and crop husbandry, with farming skills handed down through at least 200 generations. The Ceide Fields on the north Mayo coast contain the remains of a 5,000 year old Stone Age farming landscape of stone walled fields, preserved beneath the growing blanket bog. Research has shown that they were a highly organised community of farmers who worked together on clearing hundreds of acres of forestry and dividing the land into fields for cattle rearing.

Farm produce

Today, beef and milk production are the two most important farming sectors in Ireland, accounting for around 60% of agricultural output. The scale of our farming output relative to our domestic population of 4m people mean that Ireland exports some 90% of its net beef output, making Ireland the largest beef exporter in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Similarly, 85% of dairy output is exported.

Current plans for agricultural expansion are outlined in the Food Wise 2025 report. 

 

Countryside

The spring barley harvest pictured at Redcross in Co Wicklow, with typical mixed farming countryside and the Irish Sea in the background. Part of the visual appeal of Ireland is that the agricultural land is farmed by an estimated 139,829 family farms. Two thirds of Ireland’s farms are less than 30 hectares in size. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) Farm Structure Survey in 2007 reported an average farm size of 32.3 hectares (75 acres) (www.cso.ie). The Farm Structures Survey involved a sample size of 55,000 farms and was also undertaken in 1991 and 2000. Fresh data on farm sizes will emerge in late 2012 when the full results of the 2010 Census of Agriculture are published.

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Countryside
Copyright Irish Farmers Journal

Countryside

The spring barley harvest pictured at Redcross in Co Wicklow, with typical mixed farming countryside and the Irish Sea in the background. Part of the visual appeal of Ireland is that the agricultural land is farmed by an estimated 139,829 family farms. Two thirds of Ireland’s farms are less than 30 hectares in size. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) Farm Structure Survey in 2007 reported an average farm size of 32.3 hectares (75 acres) (www.cso.ie). The Farm Structures Survey involved a sample size of 55,000 farms and was also undertaken in 1991 and 2000. Fresh data on farm sizes will emerge in late 2012 when the full results of the 2010 Census of Agriculture are published.

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Enlarge image

Soil quality

Farming is spread throughout the 26 counties. Enterprises requiring better quality soil and generally level land such as tillage and dairying tend be concentrated in the east and south, while sheep and beef are the main enterprises in the west and north. However, as we will see later, each enterprise can be found in almost every county.

Statistics

In 2012, the CSO published the results of the Census of Agriculture 2010, which provides comprehensive statistics on all aspects of farming in Ireland (www.cso.ie). According to the census, Ireland had 139,829 active farm holdings on 1 June 2010. Livestock are central to Irish farming and 110,998 holdings had animals on their property in the 2010 census. The average size of each farm holding was 32.7 hectares or 80 acres, although it is important to note that many thousands of holdings are too small to justify full time employment.

In economic terms, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine estimates that the agri-food sector in Ireland contributes a value of €24 billion to the national economy, generates 6.3% of gross value added and provides 7.4% of national employment.

Detailed analysis of the agriculture and food sector in Ireland is available from Teagasc, the State’s agriculture and food development authority (www.teagasc.ie).

Information and growth

 

Bord Bia (www.bordbia.ie) the Irish food board, is another key resource for information on the Irish farming and food industry. Their mission is to “grow the success of a world class Irish food and horticulture industry by providing strategic market development, promotion and information services”.

Author of the Farming in Ireland Article





The author of the Farming in Ireland article is Pat O’ Keeffe. He is the news editor and deputy editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, Ireland’s leading weekly agricultural publication. He graduated from University College Dublin in 1996 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree, before completing a Masters in Animal Science in New Zealand. A native of east Cork, he is a former chairman of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists of Ireland and was President of the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) in 2010/2011.

 


Next - Land Use in Irelandnext