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Ireland and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Cow with map of EU on its sideFarming has been an important part of Irish life ever since the first settlers arrived on our green, fertile island.

Ireland’s mild climate and lush soil has been a valuable source of food and trade for thousands of years and it’s still a vital part of who we are.

Being part of the European Union has helped Ireland become economically less dependent on agriculture and we now also have plenty of hi-tech industry and global exports to help support us.

However, the agri-food sector currently contributes €24 billion annually to the national economy and when supporting industries are included, it accounts for almost 10% of employment in the country.

Like their ancestors, modern Irish farmers face many challenges but being a Member State of the European Union means they don’t have to face them alone.

All 28 EU Member States co-ordinate their efforts through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) so that the global agriculture community can work together for the benefit of all humankind.

The CAP not only supports farmers’ incomes it also provides incentives to produce high quality food for consumers and encourages them to seek new development opportunities, such as renewable ‘green’ energy sources, to help protect our planet from climate change.

Preservation of our countryside is also assisted through the CAP’s Rural Development Programmes and young farmers are being supported to ensure the brightest and best are attracted to careers in agriculture.

A new, reformed CAP was agreed during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013. It will drive agriculture and the agri-food sector forward to 2020 and it includes important changes such as making direct payments fairer and ‘greener’ and making the CAP more efficient and more transparent.

Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil HoganThe European Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development is Phil Hogan, former Irish Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government.

It’s his responsibility to ensure that EU agricultural and rural development policies promote growth, investment and new jobs.

Commissioner Hogan is one of 28 Commissioners who were approved by the European Parliament in 2014 before taking their positions. His job is to act in the interests of the European Union as a whole. All commissioners are obliged to be independent so they don’t take instruction from their national governments.

The CAP has been good for Ireland ever since we became part of what was then the EEC in 1973 and it will continue to ensure agriculture tackles new challenges and thrives for today’s agriculture communities as well as future generations.

For further information, see also:

EU Agriculture payments to Ireland

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  • The land area of Ireland is 6.9 million hectares and about 4.5 million hectares of that is used for agriculture - about 64% of total land area. A total of 43% of land throughout the EU is used for agriculture according to Eurostat with some countries like Finland and Sweden using less than 10%.
  • 81% of agricultural area is devoted to pasture, hay and grass silage (3.67 million hectares), 11% to rough grazing (0.48 million hectares) and 8% to crops, fruit & horticulture production (0.38 million hectares).
  • The primary agriculture sector accounts for 0.9% of the country's economy (total GVA) and 4.7 % of total employment. This is lower than the European average both in economic terms (1.7% in EU-27) and employment (5.2% in EU-28).
  • The beef category accounts for the largest share of Gross Agricultural Output (GAO) at 38%, while milk accounts for 29%. Other sectors to have a share in GAO include pig (8%), sheep (4%), cereals (6%), and other (15%).
  • There were 6.9 million cattle in Ireland according to the June 2013 livestock survey. This represents a 2% increase on prior year levels.
  • In 2013, Ireland exported an estimated 466,000 tonnes of beef worth approximately €2.09 billion.
  • There are approximately 139,900 family farms in Ireland with an average size of 35.7 hectares per holding. That’s larger than the EU average of 14.4 in hectares EU-28. A total of 63% of Irish holdings are between 10 and 50 hectares.
  • The age structure of the Irish farming community is on average older than in the EU- 28. In Ireland only 6.8% of farmers are under 35 (7.5% in EU-28), while 25.3% are older than 64 (30% in EU-28).
  • Irish agriculture has benefited greatly from EU payments. Between 2007 and 2013 the CAP invested €11.7 billion into Ireland's farming sector and rural areas.
  • According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, in 2013 almost two thirds of Irish people thought that the financial support given by the EU through the CAP was sufficient or too low (only 13% considered it too high).


Table showing division of farming output

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Last update: 28/11/2014  |Top