Farm numbers in the European Union plunged 27% in the period 2003-2013 according to Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency on Thursday. Ireland was the only EU28 member country that showed a rise in holdings.

 

There were 10.8m farms in 2013 working 174.6m hectares of land (the utilised agricultural area). Between 2003 and 2013, slightly more than 4m holdings disappeared in the EU, while the total area used for agriculture remained almost stable. This means increasing agricultural concentration, with the average area per holding growing by 38%, from 11.7 hectares in 2003 to 16.1 hectares in 2013. Of the 10.8m farms in the EU, almost 3.5m (31.1%) were managed by persons aged 65 or over and a further 2.6m (24.7%) by managers aged between 55 and 64, while those younger than 35 accounted for 6.0% of all farm managers.

Ireland had 139,600 farm holdings in 2013, up 2.9% since 2003. The UK saw a drop of 34%; Germany 31%; France 23%; Italy 49%, and Denmark 20%.

The average size of an Irish holding was 35.5 hectares (2.47 acres in a hectare) compared with 67.5 in Denmark.

Teagasc, the Irish state agency, said in a July 2015 report that:

Almost one in three farm households nationally and half of all farms in the border region are in an economically vulnerable position...Almost 50% of cattle rearing farms, 39% of cattle other farms and 31% of sheep farms are sustainable because of the presence of off-farm employment.

The average EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) subsidy/ welfare payment in 2014 was €18,859, and accounted for 70% of average Irish farm income.

Last June Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College, said most beef farms in Ireland are not financially viable without EU subsidies. He recommended that they switch to forestry.

However, the CAP payments, the archaic conacre rental system, and public pensions, result in annual turnover of Irish land at as low as 0.2% compared with 1.5% in 1978 resulting in Irish agricultural land prices being among the highest in the world and about 4 times the level in France. It's a crazy scenario for a small country where food production is the only local natural resource.

EU farmers, managers, age, over 65

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Eurostat says that France (15.9% of EU total) and Spain (13.4%) were the two member states with the largest utilised agricultural area in 2013, followed by the United Kingdom (9.9%), Germany (9.6%).

EU farm numbers, Ireland