There are approximately 139,860 family farms in Ireland with an average size of 32.7 hectares per holding. The land area of Ireland extends to 6.9m ha, of which 4.5m ha is used for agriculture and a further 730,000 hectares for forestry. Just over 80% of agricultural area is devoted to pasture, hay and grass silage (3.6m ha), 11% to rough grazing (0.5m ha) and 8% to crops, fruit & horticulture production (0.37m ha).
In 2014, Gross Agricultural Output (GAO) of Irish agriculture was valued at €7.12 billion. The beef sector accounts for 39.3% of total output, while the dairy industry accounts for 29.4%. Other sectors to have a share in GAO include pig (7.6%), sheep (4%), cereals (4.4%), and other (15.3%).
There were 6.96m cattle in Ireland according to the June 2015 livestock census. This represents a 0.5% increase on previous year levels. Irish beef production is predominately a grass based system, with around 564,000 tonnes produced in 2015. Beef self-sufficiency is estimated at over 640%. In 2015, Ireland exported an estimated 500,000 tonnes of beef worth approximately €2.41 billion. During the same year, 178,000 cattle were exported live from Ireland, worth approximately €135 million.
Total Irish milk output in 2015 was estimated at 6,982 million litres. From this total milk output in 2015, 507 million litres was consumed as liquid milk. In addition to this 200,000 tonnes of butter and 121,800 tonnes of skim milk powder was produced. 215,000 tonnes of cheese was produced in 2014. In 2015, total dairy and ingredients exports increased by an estimated 4% to €3.24 billion.
Dairy has been identified as a key sector for growth. Current Teagasc forecasts predict that, by 2025, national milk solids production (kg fat plus protein) will have increased by over 100% compared to the 2007-2009 period. Dairy cow numbers will increase to 1.7m head during the same period, while average herd size will increase to over 100 cows. There are currently 1.1m dairy cows in the country.
Ireland is the fourth largest sheep meat producer in the EU but is the largest net exporter of sheep meat. With almost 83% of production exported, the sector relies heavily on markets in the UK and the rest of the EU. The national flock has recently stabilised after contracting on an almost continual basis since 1993. The Irish sheep flock showed a rise of 1.3% and totalled 5.16 million head, with the breeding flock decreasing by around 1.1% to 2.56 million head according to the June 2015 livestock census.
Net production in 2015 was over 58,000 tonnes and self-sufficiency is estimated at over 370%. During 2015 farms in Ireland exported an estimated 47,000 tonnes of sheep meat which was valued at approximately €230 million. The UK and France continue to be the core markets for Irish sheep meat, accounting for over 60% of total export volumes in 2015.
There are approximately 1.54m pigs in Ireland. Net production in 2015 was over 276,000 tonnes with a self-sufficiency rate estimated at around 195%. The same year saw Ireland export an estimated 230,000 tonnes of pigmeat, worth an estimated €570m. The UK is the main market for Irish pigmeat, accounting for 40% of total exports. Continental EU markets account for 25% of our pig meat exports with the remaining 35% destined for international markets.
Cereals represent the main tillage crop in Ireland with smaller areas of rotational crops grown. The area of winter cereals grown in Ireland is around 150,000 ha. Winter wheat and barley dominate the area with around 70,000 ha each, whereas only 10,000 ha of winter oats are drilled each year. The main spring cereal crops are barley, wheat and oats. Spring barley is the largest spring crop with approximately 150,000ha sown each year. There are approximately 16,000 hectares of spring wheat sown and 14,000 hectares of spring oats planted annually.