Land Use in Ireland

 

Logging

Teagasc research (www.teagasc.ie/forestry) has found that well managed coniferous forests grow far faster in Ireland than in the UK, USA, Canada or Sweden. A major change in recent years has been the shift from the planting of predominantly conifer forests (mainly Sitka Spruce) to broadleaves, such as ash. Up until the turn of the century, conifers accounted for 90% of all planting, but this has fallen to 60% in recent years. Native species, including native broadleaves and Scots Pine, now account for close to 40% of all planting. Most planting is undertaken by farmers, whereas in the past it was undertaken by the State. Coillte, the State’s forestry company, owns over 445,000 hectares of land, or 7% of the land cover of Ireland.

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Logging
Copyright Irish Farmers Journal

Logging

Teagasc research (www.teagasc.ie/forestry) has found that well managed coniferous forests grow far faster in Ireland than in the UK, USA, Canada or Sweden. A major change in recent years has been the shift from the planting of predominantly conifer forests (mainly Sitka Spruce) to broadleaves, such as ash. Up until the turn of the century, conifers accounted for 90% of all planting, but this has fallen to 60% in recent years. Native species, including native broadleaves and Scots Pine, now account for close to 40% of all planting. Most planting is undertaken by farmers, whereas in the past it was undertaken by the State. Coillte, the State’s forestry company, owns over 445,000 hectares of land, or 7% of the land cover of Ireland.

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
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Forestry

Ireland has an estimated 6.9million hectares of land, of which about 64%, or 4.44 million hectares, is suitable for agriculture. An estimated 11% of total land is used for forestry.

 

Current use of land

Grass is the dominant crop, accounting for 60% of utilizable land, which probably explains our reputation for “40 shades of green”. Around 10% of land is used for growing arable crops, predominantly wheat, barley and oats (CSO, 2016).

In simple terms, the laws of comparative advantage should ensure that Irish land would be employed in the enterprises generating the best return. However, the structure and level of activity on Irish farms is often a legacy of policy shifts, both in Ireland and - since we joined the EEC in 1973 - in Europe.

Farm organisations

A high proportion of Irish farmers are members of representative organisations that provide information, offer strength in numbers as well as lobbying politicians and Government on their behalf. The largest organisation is the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA) (www.ifa.ie), with over 85,000 members in 947 branches nationwide. The picture shows a 2011 protest calling for farmers to receive a fair share of the retail price. For young farmers aged 17-35, Macra na Feirme (www.macra.ie), founded in 1944, offers a network of clubs active in agriculture, sports, travel, public speaking, community involvement and the arts. Thousands of Irish dairy farmers are also members of the Limerick based Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) (www.icmsa.ie). Drystock farmers are also represented by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (www.icsaireland.com)

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Farm organisations
Copyright Irish Farmers Journal

Farm organisations

A high proportion of Irish farmers are members of representative organisations that provide information, offer strength in numbers as well as lobbying politicians and Government on their behalf. The largest organisation is the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA) (www.ifa.ie), with over 85,000 members in 947 branches nationwide. The picture shows a 2011 protest calling for farmers to receive a fair share of the retail price. For young farmers aged 17-35, Macra na Feirme (www.macra.ie), founded in 1944, offers a network of clubs active in agriculture, sports, travel, public speaking, community involvement and the arts. Thousands of Irish dairy farmers are also members of the Limerick based Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) (www.icmsa.ie). Drystock farmers are also represented by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (www.icsaireland.com)

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Enlarge image

History of land use

Individual farms are also reflective of the past. Between 1700 and 1900, agricultural land in Ireland was controlled by landlords. For example, in the 1780s, 5,000 landlord families owned over 95% of all productive land.

In the 30 years after Ireland’s Great Famine in 1847, determined campaigns forced a series of Land Acts culminating in 1903 with the Wyndham Act, which allowed most Irish tenants to purchase their holdings from their landlords with British government assistance.

This led to a radical shift in land ownership - within years of the Land Acts, most of the land was owned by its former tenants.  For instance, records show that by 1916, 64% of agricultural holdings in Ireland were owner occupied as compared with just 3% in 1870. Readers in Ireland can utilise their local library to access more detailed information on this important period in Irish farming and cultural history.

Also significant was the Land Act of 1923, which established the Land Commission, whose function was to transfer the ownership of the remaining large estates to smallholders. In the following decade it re-distributed 450,000 acres. The presence to this day of Rath Cairn, the small Gaeltacht near Athboy in Co Meath, can be traced to the Land Commission transfer of families from west to east.

 

Farm ownership

The vast majority of farms in Ireland today are operated as family farms, with the land generally passed from one generation to the next via inheritance. Only a tiny fraction of the land is offered for sale on the open market each year – just 0.3% in 2011 (Irish Farmers Journal, 3 March 2012 Vol 65, no 10).

In other words, it would take around 330 years for all the country’s farmland to change hands. This rate of land mobility is far lower than some of our competitor countries, such as New Zealand, and is a constraint on expansion for ambitious Irish farmers..

Renting land on 11 month leases is very common and is the main route to scale for most farmers. The most recent Farm Structures Survey undertaken by the CSO was in 2013

A significant finding from the 2010 Census of Agriculture was that 8.5% of Ireland’s agricultural land is commonage. This is land that has multiple owners who have rights to graze the property. Most commonages are located on the slopes of mountains, or on bogs. According to the CSO’s analysis, a remarkable 27% of Co Mayo’s agricultural land is held in this manner.


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