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 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, with Member States controlling much of what is allocated and having 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.
EU countries will implement the new CAP from January 2023 through their own national strategic plans, which need to be approved by the 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.
Ireland’s proposed strategic plan has a budget of just under €10 billion for the 2023-27 period, with about 60 percent allocated to direct income support and 40 percent to rural development measures.
The new 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 is 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.
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 overall programme funding in Ireland is allocated to 28 sub-regional areas, based on administrative or county boundaries.
Under the new CAP, rural development measures will be included in the national CAP strategic plans from 2023 onwards.
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.
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 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.
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
- Employment in the Irish agri-food sector accounted for approximately over 163,600 people or 7.1% of total employment in 2020.
- Ireland exports the vast majority of its agricultural products. They accounted for 8.8% of the country’s total merchandising exports in 2020.
- The value of Ireland’s agri-food exports for 2020 totalled €14.2 billion.
- In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, farm incomes in Ireland increased by 9% in 2020 to €25,615 according to Teagasc’s National Farm Survey for the year.
- Teagasc’s National Farm Survey results found that 33.8% of Irish farms surveyed were classified as viable in 2020. A further 33.4% were classified as sustainable, mainly due to off-farm income, while the remaining 32.8% were deemed economically vulnerable.
Latest agriculture news
The European Commission has proposed an exceptional measure funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to allow Member States pay a one-off lump sum to farmers & agri-food businesses affected by significant increases in input costs.
The European Commission has approved a €50 million Irish scheme to support the beef sector affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The European Commission has presented a range of short-term and medium-term actions to enhance global food security and to support farmers and consumers in the EU in light of rising food prices and input costs, such as energy and fertilisers.