Tillage Farming


Growth of crops

Over 300,000 hectares of the best land in Ireland is engaged in tillage farming, or the annual production of crops for harvest. Cereal crops are the main output, led by barley, then wheat and then oats.



Overall production of the three main cereals (wheat, oats and barley) decreased by 12.3% (-323,000 tonnes) to 2,311,000 tonnes in 2016. The total area under cereals decreased by 11,200 hectares (-3.8%) to 280,300 hectares and overall cereal yield decreased by 8.7% to 8.2 tonnes per hectare. Total barley production decreased by 14.9% (-259,000 tonnes) in 2016. See Tables 1- 3. 

The yield of potatoes decreased by 7.9% from 42.3 tonnes per hectare in 2015 to 38.9 tonnes per hectare in 2016 while the area under potatoes increased by 6.1%. This resulted in a drop in production of 8,000 tonnes (-2.3%) to 352,000 tonnes (CSO, 2017). 

Oilseed rape

Apart from the cereal crops, Irish farmers grow maize, beans, peas, oilseed rape, beet and potatoes. Potato growing in particular has become very intensive, with just 12,200 hectares grown. There are 540 growers who plant more than five hectares each and around 200 specialised growers account for 75% of production. The crop requires exceptionally good land and is now confined to parts of Meath, Louth, Dublin, Wexford, Donegal and Cork. Donegal has a noted tradition of growing potatoes for the seed trade, while Dublin and Meath growers supply the table market in Dublin, as well as the crisp making requirements of the Largo Foods plant at Ashbourne.

Sugar production

Sugar beet was a very popular crop in Ireland from the establishment of Comhlacht Siuicre Eireann (CSE), which was formed when the State took over the ailing Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company’s Carlow factory in 1933.

In 1933-1934, sugar beet processing factories were built in Mallow, Thurles and Tuam. The number of sugar beet growers quickly reached 27,000 by 1936 and peaked at 50,141 in 1943. The company was a huge force in rural Ireland, diversifying through Erin Foods into vegetables.

CSE was limited by a sugar quota after Ireland joined the European Union and the company was privatised as Greencore in 1990. As part of a European restructuring policy, Greencore availed of a fund to controversially close the last remaining sugar beet factory, Mallow, in 2006.

Moves are currently underway to investigate the viability of resuming sugar beet processing in Ireland. BEET Ireland are Farmers representing Farmers who are bringing about a return of the Sugar Beet Industry to Ireland, see updates on their website.


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