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Family Farm Income (FFI) is the return from farming for
farm family labour, land and capital and it is the principal
measure used in the Teagasc National Farm Survey.
FFI varies considerably among Irish farm systems with
Dairy farms being consistently the most profi table. The
Drystock sector which is made up of Cattle and Sheep
farms, is typically characterised by lower profi tability and
smaller holdings. The average income per hectare was
lowest on Cattle Rearing farms as illustrated in Table 1,
where the fi gure fell to 270/ha in 2018 compared to
322/ha in 2017. This average income per hectare was
just one quarter of that of their Dairy farm counterparts.
Average FFI per hectare on Cattle Other farms was 391/
ha in 2018, falling from 460/ha the previous year. The
equivalent fi gure on Sheep farms was 276/ha, down from
369/ha in 2017.(Teagasc 2019)
Size (ha)
Income per ha
Cattle Rearing
Cattle Other
Table 1: Average Farm Size & FFI per ha 2018
Source: Teagasc NFS Report
Given the results from the information collected by
Teagasc in the National Farm Survey, we can see a defi nite
trend in the substantially lower farm incomes in the
Drystock sectors in particular. Fig. 1 represents FFI over
time and highlights the increasing gap between Dairy
and Drystock farms and how the Drystock sector is year
on year falling signifi cantly behind the other farming
sectors in Ireland. The e ect of falling incomes means
that without some changes being made to the farming
enterprise and to family farm income a viable living
cannot be made from the family farm.
According to the Teagasc NFS, a farm business is defi ned
as being Economically Viable where Family Farm Income
is su cient to pay family labour at the minimum wage
(which is assumed here to be 19,616 per labour unit), and
provide a 5% return on the capital invested in non-land
assets, i.e. machinery and livestock. Where a farm is found
not to be economically viable but has an o -farm income
source within the household, the farm is then considered
to be Economically Sustainable but if there is no o -farm
income and the farm business is identifi ed as being non-
viable, the farm is then considered to be Economically
Vulnerable. It clearly shows the wide di erential between
the viability of Dairy, Tillage and Drystock farms in 2018,
while only one third of Irish farms were viable in 2018.
(Teagasc 2019)
Given the stark fi gures on the viability of Drystock farms
the following questions need to be asked;
Could another enterprise be developed using the
existing land base and farm buildings?
Could a sustainable income and living be achieved for
a family by considering an alternative enterprise?
Albert Einstein is attributed to coining the phrase "The
defi nition of insanity is doing the same thing over and
over again and expecting a di erent result". With this in
mind farmers should consider what direction they want
their farm to go with regard to the next generation. It
is important to keep rural areas populated and with the
decline in farm incomes it is very di cult for the next
generation to consider carrying on the family farm. This
Can On-Farm Diversifi cation
Save the Future of Drystock
Family Farms?
By Marianne Mulhall, Teagasc