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 has a vital role to play in Ireland’s economic prospects and today it’s facing real threats from climate change, rising energy costs, food insecurity and rural decline, as well as uncertainty surrounding Brexit and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Being part of the European Union means Irish farmers and rural communities don’t have to face 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 2021-2027
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, with Member States controlling much of what is allocated and having the option to transfer up to 15% of their funding between direct payments and rural development.
This allows them to distribute funding appropriately to their own farming sector's priorities, while delivering on the ambitions of the Green Deal roadmap for making the EU's economy and environment sustainable.
Under the European Commission’s major recovery plan, Next Generation EU (NGEU), funding for the CAP 2021-2027 has been substantially increased to help agriculture recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact. An additional €26.4 billion from NGEU will bring the total funding proposed up to €391 billion for agriculture and rural development.
The MFF 2021-2027 substantially reinforces the CAP funding. In total, €391 billion is proposed for agriculture and rural development, commensurate to the importance of agriculture and rural development in the EU.
Irish farmers as well as rural development communities and groups have been able to benefit from loans or guarantees under the Commission’s temporary framework for state aid that supports economies during the pandemic.
Farmers could qualify for a maximum aid of €100,000 per farm and food processing, and marketing companies from a maximum of €800,000.
The 2021-2027 CAP prioritises small and medium-sized farms, encourages young farmers to join the profession and focuses on better rural development.
Currently less than 7% of Irish farmers are under the age of 35. The CAP, together with funding incentives and research, aims to boost that figure and help new generations of farmers with proposals 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
The CAP is not only about looking forward; it’s also designed to protect what we already have. 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, and about three quarters of funding is allocated to this priority.
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.
LEADER is the mechanism that delivers development to local rural communities and it’s 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 overall programme funding in Ireland is allocated to 28 sub-regional areas, based on administrative or county boundaries.
The LEADER programme
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.
EU strategies for rural development in Ireland
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 new 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.
Irish agriculture: facts and figures
- Employment in the Irish agri-food sector accounted for approximately over 164,400 people or 7.1% of total employment in 2019.
- Ireland exports the vast majority of its agricultural products. They accounted for 9.5% of the country’s total merchandising exports, and 11.2% of imports in 2019.
- The value of Ireland’s agri-food exports for 2019 totalled €14.5 billion.
- The average Irish farm size in the Teagasc National Farm Survey for 2019 was 43 hectares, with average income per hectare coming in at €549.
- Teagasc’s National Farm Survey results found that 34% of Irish farms surveyed were classified as viable in 2019. A further 33% were classified as sustainable, mainly due to off-farm income, while the remaining 33% were deemed economically vulnerable.
Latest agriculture news
The European Commission wants to have 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030, as well as to increase organic aquaculture.
The European Commission has approved a €45 million Irish scheme to support the beef sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.