A new analysis of national farm survey (NFS) figures by Teagasc has found that 48,000 of Ireland’s 135,000 farms had an economic output of less than €8,000 in 2022.

These farms are classified as particularly small in economic terms and are not included in annual NFS reporting.

Farms below the €8,000 output threshold occupy 15% of the country’s farmland and have typical herd sizes of five suckler cows, 12 finishing cattle or 20 ewes across 13ha.

The average family farm income on small cattle and sheep farms came to €2,638 in 2022, which is only around one-sixth of the NFS average for these farm types.

Teagasc stated that the results of its study confirm that “very low” farm incomes are earned on small farms, with this put down to a combination of low levels of output per hectare and high fixed costs relative to farm size.

Four out of every five of these farms have an off-farm source of income through employment or a pension.

Some 35% of those surveyed intend to remain farming over the next five years, while 27% expect that they will lease out their farm.

Of those who plan on staying farming, over half reported to be interested in converting to organics and two-fifths reported to be interested in getting more involved in agri-environmental schemes.


Teagasc noted that while small farms are “not particularly significant in economic terms”, the trajectory of small farmers may have “implications for the overall sustainability of Irish agriculture”.

These farms were found to use low levels of chemical fertiliser, which, combined with low stocking rates, means that they have “very low levels” of greenhouse gas emissions.

Just 4% of the emissions from the entire farming sector come from these 48,000 small farms, but lower levels of output compared with the rest of drystock farms led to the emissions per unit of output being higher.

The Teagasc researchers also stated that the “extremely extensive” management of small farms makes it likely that they are important for biodiversity.