Half of Irish drystock farms earn less than €10,000

Approximately 19% of farms in Ireland produced a farm income of less than €5,000 in 2016, according to the preliminary results of Teagasc’s National Farm Survey.

The survey found a wide variation in farm incomes across the farming population. On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 14% of farms produced an income of over €50,000 – a 2% decrease on the previous year.

Just over a quarter of farms earn between €20,000 and €50,000. This proportion increased by 3% to 26% after the number of farms earning over €50,000 decreased.

Income across and between enterprises

A wide distribution in income across and between farm systems was also found. The majority of cattle-rearing farms earned less than €10,000 in 2016 – 51% of farms. Only 10% of drystock farms earned an income of over €50,000.

Some 44% of other cattle enterprises – ‘cattle other’ – earned less than €10,000 in 2016, while 48% of sheep farms were also in this income category.

In contrast, 45% of dairy enterprises earned an income of over €50,000 in 2016, while approximately only 5% had a farm income of less than €10,000.

Income categories were more evenly distributed in the tillage sector: 23% of tillage farmers earned an income of over €50,000, while approximately 30% earned less €10,000 in 2016.

The highest incomes continue to be clustered in the dairy and tillage sectors.

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Source: Teagasc

On-farm labour

Across the 83,377 farms represented by the survey, there was an average of 1.1 unpaid family labour units employed on each farm.

Dairy farms had the highest average amount of unpaid labour supplied, at 1.4 labour units. In contrast, tillage farms and cattle enterprises had the lowest level, at 0.96.

The relatively low labour input on tillage farms is reflected in the higher incomes when expressed on a per labour unit basis.

Less variability in farm income is seen when income is expressed on a per labour unit basis, rather than a per farm basis.
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Source: Teagasc

Given the expansion of Irish dairy enterprises since the abolition of quotas in 2015, labour is becoming increasingly more important to the sector.

However, there is a serious problem of labour shortages. Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc, recently commented on the issue, saying:

It is purely an expansion-driven issue. If you were milking 100 cows prior to the quota being lifted and you go up to 150, then that’s a whole new ball game; even going from 50 to 100.

Boyle admitted that even Teagasc may not have fully appreciated the value of labour supply prior to the expansion period in the post-quota era.