‘Serious poverty’ at the core of cattle rearing farms in Ireland

National Farm Survey 2018 shows farm incomes hit by cold winter and hot summer

Dairy farm incomes in 2017 averaged at €88,829, but the cold start and then long hot summer last year saw this drop by more then 30 per cent to €66,273. Photograph: Getty Images

Dairy farm incomes in 2017 averaged at €88,829, but the cold start and then long hot summer last year saw this drop by more then 30 per cent to €66,273. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Cattle farms in the Republic lost an average of €4,791 each in 2018, before direct payments from Europe, according to the latest National Farm Survey from agriculture development agency, Teagasc.

Teagasc director general Gerry Boyle said when direct payments were taken into account the average income from cattle rearing, the State’s largest farming enterprise, was €8,318.

He said “at the core there is serious poverty” in the sector, the worst of which appeared to be located among single farmers in the northeast.

According to the survey, farming in Ireland is very much a mixed bag with average farm incomes for dairy farmers far outstripping those of other farm sectors, particularly the cattle rearing sector which is bottom of the league.

Dairy farm incomes in 2017 were in the order of €88,829 on average, but the cold start and then long hot summer last year saw this drop by more then 30 per cent to €66,273. The major factors in this were increased use of concentrate feeds to more then 1,300 kg per cow.

“Other” cattle farms, which comprise a range of cattle production systems such as cattle finishers, other than rearing systems, also experienced an income drop. Average Cattle Other farm income in 2018 was €14,408, a reduction of 11per cent on the 2017 figure of €16,115, including direct payments.

Sheep farming

According to Teagasc economist Dr Emma Dillon, sheep farms also experienced an income reduction in 2018, with higher than normal levels of feed and fertiliser use. Average Sheep farm income fell from €17,357 in 2017 to €13,769 in 2018, a reduction of 21per cent.

While crop yields on tillage farms were well below average trend yields, farmers benefitted from a large jump in harvest prices in 2018 relative to 2017. In spite of the low yields, this price increase was large enough to boost the average income in tillage farms in 2018, which was €42,678, an increase of 18 per cent on the 2017 figure of €36,048.

Across the farm sector as a whole, the average family farm income in 2018 declined by 21 per cent, dropping from €29,774 in 2017 to €23,483. However, the average on individual farm systems continues to vary greatly.

Responding, the IFA said the decline in income for cattle rearers to €8,318 “reflects the truly dire situation in what is our largest farming enterprise in the country”.

The IFA said the viability of farms remained questionable with only 32 percent of all farms classified as viable according to Teagasc. This varies across systems, with 73 per cent of dairy farmers economically viable while only 11 per cent of suckler farmers reach that threshold.