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 industries 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 numerous challenges but many of today’s problems can’t be solved locally and farming is facing real threats from climate change, rising energy costs, food security and rural decline, as well as uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
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 EU nations through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to find solutions to global, as well as local, issues.
The future of agriculture depends on planning ahead together and Ireland is meeting its EU commitments in that regard 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 was first introduced in Europe over 50 years ago and has undergone several changes over the past five decades as it continues to evolve to meet new challenges.
It provides vital direct income support for farmers as well as incentives for them to produce high quality food and seek new development opportunities, such as renewable ‘green’ energy sources, to help protect our planet from climate change.
The CAP was most recently reformed in 2014 after the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union agreed a number of significant changes and it will drive agriculture and the agri-food sector forward to 2020.
With an annual budget of roughly €59 billion it’s funded mainly from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRDS).
In 2017, the European Commission held a major consultation on modernising and simplifying the CAP that attracted almost 323,000 submissions from a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers and organisations with an interest in agriculture.
The consultation found that European citizens believe agricultural policy should continue to be managed at EU level, and that helping farmers and protecting the environment should be its two main goals.
However, it also revealed that citizens and farmers alike want the future CAP to be simpler and less bureaucratic in order to more effectively achieve its objectives.
The results of the consultation will help formulate an impact assessment on the future of the CAP and feed into the Commission's ongoing reflection on the future of food and farming.
A second consultation on an Initiative to improve the food supply chain is aimed at strengthening the position of farmers in the food supply chain as outlined in the Agricultural Markets Task Force, which was set up to recommend policy change.
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
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.
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.
A central priority of the Irish RDP is restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry.
RDP support will make around 111,600 training places available for Irish farmers to increase their knowledge and skills.
Almost 10% of 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 6.9 million hectares, of which 4.4 million hectares is used for agriculture and a further 730,000 hectares for forestry.
- There are 139,600 farms in Ireland and the average size is 32.5 hectares.
- According to the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2016, almost half of Irish farm households have off-farm employment and the average farmer is aged 56.
- In Ireland 81% of agricultural area is devoted to pasture, hay and grass silage (3.6 million hectares), 11% to rough grazing (0.5 million hectares) and 8% to crops, fruit & horticulture production (0.36 million hectares).
- Total agri-sector employment in 2016 was 173,000 and Gross Agricultural Output (GAO) was valued at €6.92 billion.
- The beef and dairy categories are the largest and account for 38.8% and 29.5% of GAO respectively. Other sectors to have a share in GAO include pig (7.8%), sheep (4%), cereals (3.9%), and other (16%).
- In 2016, Irish food and drink exports rose by about 2% to reach €11.15 billion
- Milk production in Ireland in 2016 was 6.8m tonnes, an increase of 4% on the 2015 annual total.
- There are more cattle than people in Ireland with 6.61 million recorded in the December 2016 livestock survey. This represents a 3% increase on previous year levels.
- 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.
- Ireland's total GHG emissions per capita are among the highest in the EU, and of the total GHG emissions agriculture accounts for the biggest share with 32%. Taking decisive actions against climate change is an important challenge for the country.