Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 29 June, 2004

Written Answers. - Farm Size.

  124. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on whether there is a need for major consolidation of holdings to allow farmers to achieve economies of scale in agricultural production to allow them to achieve incomes from farming comparable to those in the non-farm sector. [19507/04]

  Mr. Walsh:Over the ten-year period 1992 to 2002 there has been a gradual consolidation in farm size. The CSO figures show that there has been a gradual reduction in farm numbers, with the number of farms of less than 20 hectares declining by 30% over this period, while the number of farms over 20 hectares has remained stable. This has resulted in an increase in the average farm size from 27 hectares in 1992 to 32 hectares in 2002 which compares favourably with an EU average of 19 hectares.

One of the most significant trends in recent years has been the shift toward part-time farming, with 42% of holders having an off-farm job. Part-time farming must be recognised as providing an important option for those who wish to remain in farming while supplementing their income from other sources. This situation is not unique to Ireland, with 30% of EU farmers having an off-farm income. The Government has a number of policies in place to facilitate and encourage structural change, including measures such as installation aid, retirement, leasing and stamp duty. These measures bring about structural alterations that work for the betterment of farming and general society.

CSO data shows that on average farm households have marginally higher disposable incomes than other households, at 103% of the State average. This is supported by ESRI data which indicates that farm households have lower levels of consistent poverty than their urban or other rural counterparts.