Ireland’s farming industry underpins a food and beverage sector with an annual output totalling €26 billion. Gross agricultural Output (GAO) is in the region of €7 billion. Of this, the beef category accounts for 39.3 per cent, while the dairy sector accounts for 29.4 per cent. Other sectors that have a share in GAO include pig (7.6%), sheep (4%), cereals (4.4%), and other (15.3%). The agri-food and drink sector accounts for 7.6% of Ireland’s economy-wide Gross Value Added; 12.3% of the country’s exports and 8.6% of total employment.
Grass based production is at the heart of Irish agriculture on Irish farms with beef, dairy and sheepmeat predominating in both overall output terms and export values. Growth within the industry is projected to increase significantly over the next number of years. The Food Harvest 2020 strategy, launched in 2010, envisages Ireland achieving step change growth in both primary production and exports. A case in point is the projected 50% increase in milk output on farms in Ireland, to be achieved by the end of the decade. To date, the industry is 60% of the way there, in terms of achieving this target.
Complementing the Harvest 2020 plan is the more recently published Food Wise 2025 strategy. In effect, this represents a blueprint, detailing how Irish agriculture and Irish Farms can increase food output levels on a wholly sustainable basis.
Family run farms in Ireland make up the fabric of Irish agriculture, particularly within the dairy, beef and sheep meat sectors. This business model is recognised as being the most flexible farm management option, given the relatively small scale of the businesses concerned. Tillage farms tend to be larger in terms of their scope, making them more amenable to development options which depend on new machinery and crop management technologies with a clear focus on scale of operation.
Ireland is also home to one of Europe’s most efficient pig industries. Despite having to cope with the challenge of relatively high feed costs – compared with all of their other EU counterparts – Irish pig producers have built up very successful businesses, characterised by the attainment of extremely high performance levels.
Ireland’s tillage sector is another success story, particularly in the south and south east of the country. Ireland’s temperate climate and rich soils are perfectly suited to cereal production. Recent years have seen yields in excess of 4t/ac regularly achieved with winter wheat and barley crops.