The Teagasc regional review for 2021 has been published giving an overview of farming activity throughout the country. In this article we look at the Laois-Kildare-Meath-Louth-Dublin review, covered by Teagasc advisors, which reveals the extent to which a dairy surge has been seen in traditional beef-finishing counties.
These reviews, incorporating Teagasc’s 12 advisory regions, are based on the results of the Census of Agriculture 2020, and Teagasc’s own data, and paint an interesting present-day picture or farm life and farming activities – and how they are changing.
Firstly, we look at the farmer numbers in the region and according to the review, that number has decreased by 4% since 2010; there are now 12,500 farmers, compared to 13,000 back then.
But, compared to 1915, the number of farmers across the region has dropped by a massive 63%.
How the number have changed
In 1991, 33% of farmers were under 45 and 23% were over 65. This improved to 35% under 45 and 20% over 65 in 2000. Some 13% of farmers are women compared with 10% in 1991.
Currently, according to the 2020 Census of Agriculture, 20% of farmers are under the age of 45, while 33% of farmers are over the age of 45.
Farm size and enterprise
The average farm size in the region is 42ha, which is above the state average of 33ha. Interestingly, Dublin farms are the largest at 47ha, while 9% of farms in the region are over 100ha.
A breakdown of enterprises reveals that specialist beef is the most common in the region at 6,014; specialist tillage is second at 1,498; mixed crops is third at 1,341; specialist dairying is next at 1,228; followed by specialist sheep at 1,105; mixed livestock at 758; mixed crops and livestock at 411; and other at 218.
Number of animals
This region has 89,000 suckler cows, 584,000 sheep, and 164,000 dairy cows.
There are 22 sow units, with an average of 636 sows per unit; and there are 21 poultry-layer units, with 18 broiler units for meat.
In bit more detail, while dairy and sheep numbers rose in the region in 2021, suckler numbers fell by 21%, a bigger decrease than the national average.
“During 2021, beef and mart prices rose but so too did costs, so net margin rose only slightly. Beef finishers did better than suckler farms in terms of profit. No big change in beef prices is expected in 2022,” according to the review.
Gross margin per hectare on cattle-finishing farms rose by 10% with a modest increase in net margin per hectare (+€72).
Total numbers of cattle slaughtered dropped by approximately 90,000 head in 2021 and live exports reduced by over 12,000 head.
The number of calves born to the suckler herd dropped by 1% compared to 2020.
It is expected that there will be a further 12% increase in expenditure costs in 2022 on Irish beef farms driven again by increased fertiliser, feed and fuel costs. Beef prices are not expected to change significantly in 2022 due to current high global beef prices, a limit on EU imports due to high shipping costs and an overall drop in beef production within the EU.
Dairy-cow numbers in the region are up 45% since 2012, with numbers up 75% in Laois and Kildare.
Depending on county, dairy-cow numbers went up 45-77 % on farms, except in Dublin where numbers fell.
The rate of increase in the region is well above the national average during this period.
Meath and Louth, along with Waterford, have the highest average number of cows per farm, at over 110 cows each, compared with a national herd size of 83 cows.
Last year was a good year for dairying; good weather, good yields, and a good milk price meant average dairy-farm income was €94,000, up 28% on 2020.
Feed and fertiliser costs were up 16% and 10%, respectively, in 2021, and so far this year shows those costs even higher.
Profits in 2022 are expected to be lower than 2021 because of these higher costs, even with a projected milk price of over 40c/L.
Sheep numbers are up 17% since 2010 – on 2,775 farms in 2020 compared with 2,516 farms in 2010.
Louth, Kildare and Meath have the largest flocks in the region with over 109
sheep per flock, on average.
Irish lamb prices rose by 30% to record highs in 2021 over 2020 figures, but costs were up 20% so margins were up about 26%.
Lamb prices will stay nearly as high in 2022 according to projections, but so too will costs, the report stated.
The region has about 8% of the country’s pig farms and sows. In addition, there are a number of specialist fattening units.
In 2000, the average number of pigs produced per sow was 21.5; in 2022 this has risen to 27.5 pigs per sow. Genetics and management have led to this massive increase.
Margins per sow are currently under huge pressure, with feed price amounting to €1.35-1.40/kg pigmeat sold.
The sale price is €1.42/kg, so there is a 2c margin over feed.
The outlook on pig prices is an expected rise to €1.60, giving a margin of 22 c/kg – this is the worst in decades, with a loss, per sow, of €700-800. Farmers would need a 45c margin over feed cost to cover other costs.
The average commercial free-range laying flock is 12,000 birds across Ireland. The average for this region is approximately 7,700; the smallest is 160, while the largest is 16,000.
The outlook for poultry is positive with estimates that poultry meat will increase by 18.5 million tonnes by 2030. There are challenges on the horizon, however. The removal of the enriched cage systems by 2025, will require substantial to convert existing systems to either barn or free-range production.
The number of cereal farmers has fallen by 60% nationally and the area under cereals has fallen 12% since 1991.
This region grew 36% of the Republic of Ireland’s (RoI’s) cereals in 2020; and it grows almost 60% of the country’s wheat. Laois is the smallest wheat grower within the region.
Grain harvests were good in 2021 and prices were excellent, with margins up 90% on 2020.
This region grew 33% of the RoI’s other crops, fruit, and horticulture in 2020.
There are approximately 9,000ha of potatoes grown in Ireland every year and a large proportion are grown in this region. Most of the potatoes growers in the region are located in Louth, Meath and Dublin.
The season ahead will be challenging given the increase in input costs. Teagasc Crops Costs and Returns figures estimate total variable costs of €10,357/ha for main crop potatoes in 2022. Another ongoing challenge for potato growers is the availability of quality seed, the review stated.
According to Bord Bia, in 1999 there were 377 vegetable growers in this region growing 4,554ha of field vegetables with a total farmgate value of €41.5 million, or just over €9,000/ha.
In 2014, according to most recent Bord Bia data, the figures were 165 growers with 4,267ha and a total farmgate value €80 million or just under €19,000/ha.
Of this, Dublin had 1,847 ha and Meath had 579 ha.
The entire region provided 70% of all the RoI’s field crop production. Larger producers are increasing in size over time while the number of growers had more than halved in 20 years.
The main field vegetables grown were carrots (Laois grew 26% of national production in 2014); cabbage (Dublin grew 40% of national production); broccoli (Dublin and Kildare grew 82% of national production); swedes parsnips and cauliflower (all big in Dublin, especially).
Across the top eight crops, 60% was sold to retail multiples and 21% to
There are three large mushroom farms in this region; two are based in Meath and one in Kildare.
These farms make up 12% of the total volume of mushrooms produced in the RoI and produce 7,820 tonnes of mushrooms per year.
The combined farmgate value of these mushroom producers is €14,630,840.
Some 233 people are employed on these farms with an additional 15 people employed in a packhouse facility.
This region also has the largest mushroom-compost facility in Ireland, Carbury Compost which is owned by Monaghan Mushrooms.