Rich, fertile soil, a mild climate and all that rain we love complaining about makes Ireland perfect for farming, and we’ve taken advantage of that fact for generations.
Agriculture has provided us with food and income for thousands of years and it’s a vital part of who we are. Before Ireland became a member of the European Union the country was almost totally economically dependent on farming but we now also have plenty of hi-tech industry and global exports to help support us.
However, the farming sector is still crucial to Ireland’s economy. In fact agri-food is our most important indigenous sector employing 8.6% of the working population.
Like their ancestors, modern Irish farmers face many challenges but many of today’s problems can’t be solved locally and farming is under real threat from climate change, rising energy costs, food security and rural decline.
Thankfully, being a Member State of the European Union means Irish farmers don’t have to face these issues alone and can co-ordinate with the other 27 EU nations through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to find solutions to global, as well as local, issues.
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.
The future of agriculture depends on planning ahead and Ireland is doing that through the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s Food Wise 2025 strategy, Bord Bia’s Origin Green, which enables farmers and producers to set targets aimed at protecting the environment and the Sustainable Healthy Agri-food Research Plan (SHARP) aimed at making the best use of research and new technology in agriculture.
The European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation can also provide funding to Irish researchers in the agriculture and agri-foods sectors, helping them to develop solutions that’ll make farming sustainable for future generations and the food chain safer and more secure for consumers.
The CAP is not only about looking forward, it’s also designed to protect what we already have. Preservation of our famously beautiful countryside is assisted through the CAP’s Rural Development Programmes and young farmers are being supported by CAP to ensure the brightest and best are attracted to careers in agriculture.
The CAP was first introduced in Europe over 50 years ago and has undergone several changes over the past five decades. It was most recently reformed in 2014 after the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union agreed a number of significant changes.
The latest CAP will drive agriculture and the agri-food sector forward to 2020 and it includes important provisions such as making direct payments fairer and ‘greener’, ending the EU milk and sugar quota regimes and making the CAP more efficient and more transparent.
The European Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development is Phil Hogan, former Irish Minister for the 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’s 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 national governments.
For further information, see also: Factsheet: The CAP in your country - Ireland
It’s co-funded by the EU’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the national exchequer and is designed to improve the quality of life and economic well being of people living in rural areas.
EU support for Ireland’s RDP will average €313 million annually, or a total sum of €2.19 billion over its seven-year lifespan.
RDP support will make around 111,600 training places available for Irish farmers to increase their knowledge and skills.
Almost 10% of the Irish agricultural holdings will be restructured and modernised with support from the RDP and another 3% of holdings will benefit from support specifically targeted at young farmers.
LEADER, which delivers development in local rural communities, is expected to create over 3,000 jobs and three quarters of the rural population are expected to be covered by Local Development Strategies (LDS) by 2020.
The RDP will also improve energy efficiency in farming with the help of a €50 million investment and climate-friendly agricultural practices supported on over 10% of Ireland’s agricultural land.
- Ireland covers an area of 69,798 sq km, of which 98.7% is rural. Of the total area, agricultural land covers 71.6% and forest land 11.5%.
- There are 139,600 farms in Ireland and the average size is 32.5 hectares.
- According to the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2015, half of Irish farm households have off-farm employment and 2/3 of Irish farmers are over 50.
- The Teagasc survey also found the average farm income in Ireland was €26,303 in 2015 while the average direct payment was €17,168, accounting for around 65% of income.
- The age of the average Irish farmer is 57. Only 6.8% of Irish farmers are under 35 (7.5% in EU-28), while 25.3% are older than 64 (30% in EU-28).
- The agri-food and drink sector accounts for 7.6% of Ireland’s GVA, 12.3% of Ireland’s exports and 8.6% of total employment. The value of Irish agri-food exports in 2015 was almost €12 billion.
- In recent years, Direct Payments have been a key safety net. In 2014 some 122,540 farm businesses received roughly €1.2 billion in Direct Payments.
- In the period from 2007 to 2013, Ireland got €4.3 billion of public funding in a whole range of different activities supporting agricultural production and benefitting Ireland's rural areas.
- In the period to 2020, the new CAP will invest €10.7 billion in Ireland's farming sector and rural areas, with additional co- financing from the Irish authorities.
- Being a part of the EU helps Irish farmers reach markets way beyond our shores. For example, our combined agri-food exports to the United States and China are worth over €1.6 billion.
- Irish and other EU agricultural producers will receive an increased budget of €133 million in 2017 to promote their products and find new markets. The budget will mostly target countries outside the EU, including China, Middle East, North America, South-East Asia and Japan and it’s part of an EU drive to find new markets.
- European Commission Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development
- Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
- European Commission CAP proposals for after 2013
- Teagasc - Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority
- The European Food Safety Authority
- European Parliament Agriculture and Fisheries
- Factsheet: The CAP in your country - Ireland