Two out of three farms would be economically unviable if it
were not for off-farm income, a Teagasc conference on rural development has heard.
The conference, at Teagasc’s Ashtown centre in Dublin, heard just over one-third of farm households were deemed to be economically viable, which meant that the farm income was large enough to pay the minimum agricultural wage for farm labour and provide a 5 per cent return. A further third were not economically viable but had off-farm income to make it sustainable, while the final one-third were deemed to be “vulnerable” or economically unviable.
Dr Fiona Thorne, agricultural economist with Teagasc, said dairy farms were the most viable, followed by tillage. Only 15 per cent of cattle-rearing farms were deemed to be economically viable.
“If it were not for off-farm income, two-thirds of farms would be in the vulnerable category,” she said.
The largest number of vulnerable farms were in the Border region and the west of Ireland where family farm income was “significantly lower” than in the rest of the country.
Dr Thorne said 43 per cent of farms in the Border region were considered vulnerable compared to only 19 per cent in the southwest of the country.
She said there was a 1.5 per cent increase in off-farm employment last year, the first increase for several years. “So it’s not all a bad news story.”
The conference also heard the recession had wiped out 15 years of growth in off-farm employment in just three years.
Head of Teagasc’s rural economy and development programme Prof Cathal O’Donoghue said construction was now the third most common type of off-farm employment, after the services industry and agricultural work such as contracting.
Minister of State for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan said she was determined all Government policies would be rural-proofed in a meaningful way.
“By casualness, benign or otherwise, we are failing a large proportion of our population by allowing our rural communities to decline.”
She said some element of positive discrimination would take place to arrest rural decline if necessary. “I might have difficulty with that but I’m going to pursue it as one of my aims.”
She met IDA officials last week and asked them to specifically include rural Ireland in the agency’s business plan and to outline what it was doing for rural areas. She said she expected to have a timeline by early next month for when specific actions to revive rural Ireland would be carried out.
Earlier Teagasc director Prof
told the conference there had been a 150 per cent growth in enrolments at Teagasc’s agricultural colleges and regional centres in the past six years. Some 3,500 students were now attending agricultural colleges or studying agriculture at 12 regional centres.