The farming community has been badly hit in the continuing economic crisis with subsidy payments now paying more than agricultural or dairy incomes earned throughout the year. The turnaround means that the once thriving farming sector in this country is no longer a viable business for many and families are increasingly finding it difficult to survive by living off the land.
According to the Teagasc National Farm Survey just published the average family farm income last year stood at just €11,968 - down 30 per cent on 2008 figures. This decline comes on top of a 13.7 per cent drop in incomes in 2008, bringing the overall decline in family farm income to 40 per cent since 2007.
“Output per farm declined across nearly all farming systems, with the largest decline on specialist dairy farms and on the mainly tillage farms, where milk and cereal prices fell in 2009 due to poor market returns,” said head of the National Farm Survey, Liam Connolly, at the launch of the report in Dublin. “Milk prices dropped by 30 per cent last year resulting in a 48 per cent decline in income on specialist dairy farms. The last two years have been disastrous for tillage farmers who have seen their average family farm income drop by 62 per cent from 2007 levels.”
Direct subsidy payments continue to be extremely important to farm businesses. The average direct payment in 2009 to Irish farmers was €17,109 per farm, accounting for 36 per cent of gross output and 143 per cent of family farm income.
Head of the Teagasc Rural Economy Research centre Dr Cathal O Donoghue said that off-farm income continues to be extremely important on more than half of all farms in Ireland where either the farmer and/or spouse had an off-farm job. Unfortunately, the decline in employment opportunities in the wider economy has also hit potential for earning additional income.
Fine Gael agriculture spokesperson, Michael Creed TD, said the Teagasc figures follow on from a Eurostat survey which showed Irish farmers are suffering more than others in the EU.
“Irish farmers are being squeezed out of existence by low prices, high costs, and Government cuts,” he said.