Nationally, one in three farm households and half of all farms in the border region are in an economically vulnerable position, Teagasc has said.

That was the main conclusion from a Teagasc report analysing the viability of the farming sector.

Based on the Teagasc National Farm Survey, it found that 37% of farm businesses were economically viable in 2014 and a further 31% of farms were only sustainable because of the presence of income earned outside of farming.

Almost one in three farm households were economically vulnerable as the farm business is not viable and there is no off-farm income present in the household, it found.

Dr. Thia Hennessy, Head of the Teagasc National Farm Survey and one of the authors of the report, said that the economic viability of farming in general improved last year but this is almost entirely driven by the strong performance of the dairy sector.

“We are increasingly moving to a two-tier farm sector where in 2014 over 80% of dairy farm businesses were viable compared to less than one in five cattle farm businesses,” she said.

According to Teagasc, the regional concentration of farm systems is also affecting the overall viability of the regional farm economies.

“The viability of farming in regions such as the border and the west, which are dominated by cattle and sheep farms, is of particular concern as less than one in five farm businesses are producing a profit that is sufficient to reward the labour and capital invested,” she said.

Only 16% of farm businesses in the west of Ireland are economically viable and almost half of all farm households in the border region are economically vulnerable, it said

Of the 25,000 vulnerable farm households that exist nationally, almost 12,000 of those are in the border and west regions, Teagasc said.

The report found that the availability of off-farm employment is crucial to safeguarding the economic well-being of a large number of farm households.

Almost one-third of farm households or 24,000 households nationally rely on off-farm income to support both the household and the non-viable farm business, Teagasc said.

The decline in off-farm employment has increased the vulnerability of many farm households and almost 60% of farm households had an off-farm income in 2007 but this had decreased to 49% in 2012, it says.

Although a recovery in off-farm employment rates is apparent in the last two years, some regions seem to be recovering faster than others, Teagasc said.

Brian Moran co-author of the report said that while almost one-third of farm households nationally are in an economically vulnerable position, this figure increases to 45% for the border region.

“The high concentration of cattle and sheep farming coupled with the relatively slow recovery in off-farm employment opportunities in the border region, leaves a large number of farm households in an economically vulnerable position,” he said.