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The struggles of the modern Irish farmer

Caption: Traditional Irish farmhouse cottage. Photo by Glenn Saunders for

Farming has always been one of the primary industries of Ireland. Due to expansive greenlands that Ireland is known for, Ireland has been rife with agriculture. Conditions in this country are ideal for sheep and cow farming. This has made farming a popular career path for centuries. In recent years, smaller farmers have been struggling to make a profit whilst competing with larger farms. This means that less and less people are viewing farming as a viable career choice.

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According to the agriculture Europa website, Ireland has a much greater rural population than the rest of Europe, with 64% of Irish land being viable for farming. In 2024, there are roughly 127,000 active farmers. Although that number may sound high, this is less than half the number of farmers working in Ireland in the year 2000. In 2000, there were approximately 258,000 active farmers in Ireland. Even this high figure was a decline from the year 1991, where there were approximately 313,000 active farmers in Ireland. But what is the reason behind this drastic decline? I interviewed Hugh Cunningham to get his opinion on why farming rates in Ireland are declining. Hugh has been farming his entire life. He was raised on a farm in rural Donegal and inherited said farm from his father.

Aine Cunningham via YouTube

Farming has become significantly less profitable for the average farmer than it was in the past. With inflation and the cost of living increasing, more farmers are finding it difficult to make ends meet. According to the farmers journal, 45% of Irish farmers make less than €10,000 per year. According to Teagasc, the average income of an Irish farmer dropped by 44% in 2023. Many farmers need additional government funding in order to make ends meet. It has also become increasingly difficult for small farmers to compete with larger farms for business. Larger farms often have the ability to produce more produce at more limited costs, making them the obvious choice for buyers. Due to technological advancements, larger farms are also able to mass produce their produce. has blamed the farming decline weather patterns and high farm costs.

As a result of these low income rates and limited job options, more young people are opting not to enter the agriculture industry. This is not a surprise. If you do not come from a family that owns a large farm or cannot get a high paying job on one, why enter the industry? Young people are aware of the hard work involved in farming and know that they can get a job that pays better that does not require such intense physical labour. You can’t blame them for no longer wanting to enter an industry which would likely have them struggling financially. There was a 1,000 decline in the number of people applying to study agricultural science in Ireland from the year 2021 to 2023, depicting that young people are now steering away from this sector.

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