Before Ireland became a member of the European Union it was almost totally economically dependent on farming, but the country now has a more diverse, open economy.
However, farming still plays an important role in Ireland’s economic prospects and today it is facing real threats from climate change, rising energy costs, food insecurity and rural decline, as well as uncertainty caused by war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
Being part of the European Union means Irish farmers and rural communities aren’t facing these issues alone as Ireland co-ordinates with the other EU Member States through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to find solutions to global, as well as local, issues.
EU agricultural policy focus
First introduced in Europe in 1962, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a common policy for all EU countries. It is regularly updated to ensure farmers can make a reasonable living and to tackle evolving threats to agriculture, rural living and the environment.
The CAP is supported by two funds drawn from the EU budget; the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), which provides direct support and funds market measures, and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).
Payments are managed at national level by Member States who control what is allocated and they have the option to transfer up to 25% of their funding between direct payments to farmers and rural development.
This allows them to distribute funding appropriately to their own farming sector's priorities, while delivering on the ambitions of the European Green Deal for making the EU's economy and environment sustainable.
Funding for the latest CAP has been substantially increased to help agriculture recover from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A total of €387 billion has been allocated, including €8 billion from Next Generation EU to help rural areas make the structural changes necessary to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal and the digital transition.
I believe there is great potential in Ireland, and the European Union as a whole, to become leaders in sustainable food production, and for our farmers to reap the benefits.
Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
EU countries are implementing the new CAP from January 2023 through their own national strategic plans, which have been approved by the European Commission.
The plans allow each Member State to address its own needs while also delivering tangible results in relation to ten EU-level CAP objectives.
Preservation of Ireland’s famously beautiful countryside is assisted through the CAP’s Rural Development Programmes (RDPs).
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is a co-funder and the Managing Authority for Ireland’s Rural Development Programme.
A central priority of the Irish programme is restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture, including boglands and forestry.
Rural areas are the fabric of our society and the heartbeat of our economy. They are a core part of our identity and our economic potential. We will cherish and preserve our rural areas and invest in their future.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
LEADER is the mechanism that delivers development to local rural communities and it is administered by Local Action Groups (LAGs), which are partnerships of both public and private bodies that select and approve projects in their respective areas.
The programme funding in Ireland is allocated to 28 sub-regional areas, based on administrative or county boundaries.
The European Commission has set out a long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas up to 2040 and is working with stakeholders on a Rural Pact and an EU Rural Action Plan aimed at developing stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural communities.
Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan
Ireland’s Strategic Plan has a budget of just under €10 billion for the 2023-27 period, with about 60% allocated to direct income support and 40% to sectoral support and rural development measures.
The Irish Strategic Plan aims to reduce the income gap between farming and other sectors of the economy and €590 million of the funding is dedicated to promoting a more balanced distribution of support towards small and medium sized farms.
The new CAP encourages young farmers to join the profession and almost €178 million of funding will be allocated to complementary income support for young Irish farmers.
Currently less than 7% of Irish farmers are under the age of 35. The CAP aims to boost that figure and help new generations of farmers with measures such as:
- Increased mentoring and knowledge transfer
- More flexibility on taxation and inheritance rules
- Easier access to loans with lower interest rates and longer repayment periods
Ireland faces major challenges in relation to environmental and climate-related objectives and the Strategic Plan will see more than €1.5 billion used for a new Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) targeting 50,000 farmers with specific actions to improve biodiversity, climate, air and water quality outcomes.
Wetlands and peatlands will be better protected under the plan with use of all types of fertilisers and plant protection products restricted in buffer zones along watercourses.
Over €250 million will be dedicated to tripling the area of agricultural land under organic production and Irish farmers growing protein crops (such as peas, beans, lupins, soya) will receive bonuses in order to improve their competitiveness.
A gender balanced approach will be applied in the distribution of the CAP Plan’s financial aid and women farmers will receive bonuses for investments and benefit from female focused groups for knowledge transfer.
Investment and innovation for sustainable agriculture
Investment in the future of Irish agriculture is supported through the Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy.
The EU has also created the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) to ensure that research responds to ground-level needs of farmers and foresters.
Ireland has a well-structured and interactive approach to fostering knowledge, innovation and digitalisation in agriculture and rural areas.
Under the Irish Strategic Plan, around 300,000 people will benefit from advice, training or knowledge exchange or participate in European Innovation Partnership Operational Groups, mainly in the field of environmental or climate-related performance. Over 10,000 advisors will be supported in their work to make innovation available to farmers.
EU strategies for food and biodiversity
The European Commission has adopted two new strategies that will help the CAP deliver on European Green Deal ambitions.
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly.
It sets concrete targets such as halving the use of pesticides, reducing fertilizers by at least 20%, increasing agricultural land under organic farming to 25% and lowering antimicrobials used for farmed animals by 50%.
The Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species.
The strategy proposes to bring back pollinators to agricultural land, enhance organic farming and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices and establish binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems.
Support for farmers during the war in Ukraine
The European Commission acts swiftly in times of crisis such as the global financial crisis that erupted in late 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic and most recently, the war in Ukraine.
A surge in global commodity prices during the first half of 2022 that was accelerated by Russia's invasion saw the Commission respond with a range of actions to support EU farmers and food security for consumers.
While the EU itself does not face a food security risk, we should still address food affordability issues and take steps to make our agriculture and food supply chains more resilient and sustainable to cope with future crises.
Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis
The Commission adopted a number of measures including a support package of €500 million to support farmers and producers most affected by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.
A Temporary Crisis Framework to enable Member States to use the flexibility of State Aid rules to support their economies following Russia's invasion of Ukraine was also adopted by the Commission in March 2022.
A European Food Security Crisis preparedness and response Mechanism (EFSCM), set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, maps out risks to the EU food supply chain and coordinates the response to threats such as those caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During times of crisis, Member States can draw from EU funds such as the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), which supports actions to provide food or basic material assistance to the most vulnerable.
Irish agriculture: facts and figures
- 99% of Ireland is covered by predominantly rural and intermediate regions, more than double the EU-27 average.
- There are around 135,000 farms in Ireland, with an average farm size of 33.4 hectares.
- Farms in Ireland have become increasingly specialised towards livestock production, particularly beef and dairy.
- Ireland has 127,000 active farmers and the total labour productivity in this sector is high. However, employees in this sector have low income levels compared to other sectors of the economy.
- The Irish agri-food sector accounts for 4.3% of the country’s economy (total GVA).
Latest agriculture news
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