Irish farmers are hugely dependent on EU welfare
40 years after Ireland joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.
In 2012, the average direct payment per farm was
€20,534 comprising a shocking 81% of farm income; only one third of farms
are economically viable; 27% of farmers have an off-farm job and there are
more Irish farmers over 80 years of age than under 35.
It of course isn't a shock to political leaders
as most of the farm payments are funded from Brussels and there is an impression
that it's better not to frighten farmers by questioning whether what is in
effect welfare, may have retarded the development of agriculture since the
Farmers made over €4bn from the national roadbuilding programme during the boom,
never mind a bonanza from other development land sales.
Averages conceal a multitude but the overall figure of the industry being
dependent on handouts, suggests that a minority of farmers are responsible for
most of the output.
direct payments under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy are made to farmers
even if they only spend their time watching the grass grow.
According to Savills, the
estate agents, in 2007, in France, each field changed hands at least once every
70 years, but
in Ireland on average a field changed hands every 555 years! Total
annual turnover in Ireland was less than 0.2% of the total acreage. Countries
with sales restrictions, such as France, had the cheapest land.
Land was about €6,000 a
hectare, compared with almost €60,000 in Ireland - - the most expensive in
Europe in 2007 -- as French land must be offered first to young local farmers.
In the later years of the bubble in Ireland, demand has been boosted by
purchases of 'lifestyle farms',
especially within 100 km of Dublin, coupled with the increasing trend of
'off-farm' employment leading to commercial farmers in effect becoming 'hobby
Lots of old farmers
There are more farmers over the age of 80 than
under 35, but this “unbelievable” scenario needs to be addressed, Kieran
O’Dowd, the new Macra na Feírme president, told the rural youth
organisation’s AGM in Cork last Saturday.
He asked Simon Coveney, agriculture minister,
to order a land use audit to find out exactly how land is being farmed and
by whom. “If those statistics were applied to any other profession, trade or
sector, there would be an outcry and proper provision made to address the
serious imbalance,” O’Dowd said.
He added that 7% of farmers in Germany were over
65 while in France, 13% were. “Compare this to Ireland where over 25% of our
farmers are over 65,” he said. “We must look at ensuring that Ireland’s land is
utilised to its maximum productive extent. We must also develop and promote more
effective means of collaboration between farmers through partnerships, share
farming and similar arrangements.”
estimate of the Teagasc National Farm Survey results show
that family farm income decreased by 15% in 2012, bringing the average income
figure for the farming sector to €25,483. The increase in 2010/2011 was about
Speaking at the launch of the results in Dublin, Tuesday, Dr Thia
Hennessy, head of the
National Farm Survey said: “While
agricultural commodity prices remained relatively favourable in 2012, the
inclement weather adversely affected production costs and crop yields. In
particular, dairy farms were impacted by the wet summer and direct costs of
production increased by 21%.” She also stressed that “many farmers depleted
their stock of winter fodder early last autumn and this is likely to have
further negative implications for income this year.”
“The €25,483 is the average income for the full population of approximately
80,000 farms and this conceals the large variation that exists across the
different farming enterprises. The average income on dairy farms was €51,648,
compared to just €11,743 on Cattle Rearing farms” said Brian Moran of Teagasc’s
National Farm Survey.
Farming continues to remain highly reliant on direct support payments. The
average direct payment per farm was €20,534 comprising 81% of farm
income. The Single Farm Payment, which is currently the topic of negotiation in
the ongoing Common Agricultural Policy talks, continues to be the most important
component of direct payments. It comprises 58% of farm incomes on average and
over 80% of income on cattle farms.
Low levels of profitability continue to be a problem for a large number of farms
and only about one-third of farms are economically viable farm businesses.
Almost 26,104 farm households are economically vulnerable, i.e. the business is
not viable and neither the farmer nor the spouse works off the farm. The
availability of off-farm employment opportunities continued to contract in 2012
and the number of farmers working off the farm fell for the sixth consecutive
year. The proportion of farmers also engaged in off farm employment fell from
30% in 2011 to 27% in 2012.
Falling milk prices coupled with a significant increase in expenditure on feed
stuffs led to a reduction of 24% in the average income on dairy farms in 2012.
However, 2011 was a particularly good year and the 2012 income still remains
slightly ahead of 2010 levels.
Teagasc said beef prices remained reasonably good in 2012, but again increased input
expenditure eroded the gain in output, and income on cattle farms fell by 8%.
Following a poor harvest globally, grain prices were also quite strong in 2012.
However the price increase was not sufficient to offset the poor yields and
income on tillage farms fell by 4%.
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