Higher Beef Incomes on Irish Farms, but Dairy Incomes Down

IRELAND - Overall family farm incomes are down 9 per cent in 2015, according to analysis by economists from Teagasc in their annual review of the performance of the agriculture sector.
calendar icon 3 December 2015
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Incomes improved considerably on cattle farms, but dairy farmers’ incomes declined. Pig prices were down; sheep prices were up, while the output from the tillage sector was down slightly due to lower area.

Teagasc economists presented their findings at a conference, Outlook 2016, Economic Prospects for Agriculture, which took place in the RDS, Dublin, on 1 December.

Income levels increased across most farm systems this year, the economists said, dairy being an exception. Buoyant beef and lamb prices boosted incomes on livestock farms. However, average farm income still decreased due to the effect of the falling milk price.

“This demonstrates the growing importance of the dairy industry to Irish farming," said Thia Hennessy, one of the economists at Teagasc.

Traditionally, beef farms produce the lowest incomes in Irish agriculture, but price improvement has provided an income boost of €2,700 for the average suckler farmer in 2015.

“The lower numbers of animals available this year and the strength of the euro helped to boost cattle prices,” said Kevin Hanrahan, another of the economists. Strong demand for younger animals also led to price improvements and higher incomes in other beef systems.

The end of the milk quota system this year has allowed dairy farmers to expand milk production to partially offset the fall in milk sales resulting from the lower milk price. Very favourable grass growing conditions in 2015 allowed these additional litres to be produced at a lower cost than would otherwise have been the case.

“Mainly due to a 9 cent per litre (24 per cent) fall in milk prices, average dairy farm income is estimated to have fallen from around €68,000 in 2014 to €48,000 in 2015,” said report author Trevor Donnellan.

Overall, Teagasc estimates that on the average dairy farm the production of an additional 35,000 litres, or 10 per cent of total supply, allowed for a 9 per cent reduction in the cost of producing a litre of milk.

Low cereal prices boost livestock sector

Following three consecutive bumper global cereal harvests, cereal prices have remained low, impacting negatively on crop farm incomes. This has led to lower animal feed prices helping to boost the income of livestock farmers.

“Future markets are now suggesting a slight recovery in cereal prices in the second half of 2016 which will just about counterbalance the impact of a reversion to trend yields," said Fiona Thorne, also an author of the Teagasc Outlook report.

Sheep farms have also seen lamb prices improve and sheep farms with a minor beef enterprise will have also benefitted from the improvement in beef prices. Income on the average sheep farms is estimated to have increased by over €2,000 in 2015.

What lies ahead in 2016?

Teagasc economists are indicating that family farm incomes could be up by 5 per cent in 2016. The removal of the milk quota has seen dairy cow numbers rise sharply in Ireland in recent years, so further expansion in milk production is expected in 2016. This, coupled with a modest improvement in milk prices, should see dairy farm incomes continue to recover next year.

Some of the beef price increase in 2015 is anticipated to be reversed in 2016, as the supply of animals available increases in Ireland and the EU generally. The increased number of dairy cows over recent years will lead to an increase in the available supply of finished animals in 2016.

Prospects for the sheep sector in 2016 are for a continuing increase in sheep prices due to tight global supplies of lamb.

Some recovery in both pig prices and grain prices is also anticipated next year.

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