Farm incomes rise one-third in a year

FARMERS HAD record levels of income in 2011, a new survey shows, but the increases are unlikely to be sustained this year.

FARMERS HAD record levels of income in 2011, a new survey shows, but the increases are unlikely to be sustained this year.

The Teagasc National Farm Survey 2011 found the average family farm income increased by a third on the previous year, to almost €25,000.

Farms in the dairy sector earned most: their incomes increased by 38 per cent to just under €70,000. The improvement was partly attributed to increased milk prices, up 15 per cent to 34 cent per litre.

Strong beef prices last year meant income to cattle-rearing farms increased by 50 per cent, but from a low base, to an average of €11,000.

Lamb prices were also up last year, increasing income for sheep farms by 27 per cent, to an average of €17,084. There was no change, on average, in incomes for tillage farms.

There were increases in prices for milk, beef and lamb last year. Tillage farmers also benefited from an increase in the price of wheat but did not do so well with potato prices, which dropped by more than 10 per cent.

Dr Thia Hennessy, head of the survey, said 2011 was a very good year for farming, with incomes reaching “unprecedented levels”.

But she stressed the increase was likely to be a “short-lived spike” and incomes were likely to return to 2010 levels this year.

“Commodity prices, especially for dairy products, are already on a downward path,” said Dr Hennessy.

She also pointed out that income levels for dairy farmers were likely to be affected by the super-levy, which penalises farmers who produce more than their quota of milk.

“A number are substantially over their quota,” she said.

The survey has been carried out every year since 1972. The data generated on farm output, costs and income is provided to the European Commission.

The survey found when figures were converted to “labour units”, and part-time farms excluded, the average income on a full-time farm “per unit” was €44,000.

Dairy and tillage farmers had the highest proportion of viable farms and cattle farms had the lowest.

Some 20,000 farms had incomes of less than €5,000, while 50,000 farms brought in more than €50,000. About 33,000 farms were categorised as “economically vulnerable”.

The sector managed to cut its overall farm-related debt by 20 per cent on 2010 levels, using improved incomes to pay down some of their debts.

Income from EU farm subsidies, through the Common Agricultural Policy, continued to be important to the sector: €18,000 was the average subsidy and cattle farmers would have had an average loss of €2,000 last year without subsidies.

The survey also showed fewer farmers or their spouses had work outside the farm last year. Off-farm employment dropped for the fourth year in a row.

Brian Moran, who also worked on the Teagasc survey, said off-farm employment rates of farmers were back to mid-1990s levels.

Irish Farmers’ Association president John Bryan said while the figures reflected the more positive price and income environment in 2011, increasing costs, weather and falling product prices in some sectors this year were putting pressure on farm incomes.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist