Agriculture's 'operating surplus' - the difference between the prices farmers received for their produce and the input costs they incurred - fell by 36% to €3bn in 2023, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

This is largely due to the decrease of 13% (-€1.7bn) farmers experienced in output prices in 2023.

Milk prices fell by 26% in 2023 and when combined with a 4% reduction in volumes, the value of milk declined by €1.5bn to €3.5bn.

Similarly, cattle prices fell by 1% (-€25m) to €3bn due to lower volumes (-4%).

The value of cereals was affected by both lower prices and yields. While prices fell by one third, a 6% reduction in the area planted with cereals combined with unfavourable weather led to a 26% reduction in output. As a result, the value of cereals contracted by 48% to €362m.

There was only a very minor change in the value of livestock, according to the CSO, which was up about 1% to €4.6bn.

Cattle values, at €3bn, were about 1% lower, while the value of horses was down 3% to €305m.

Sheep values remained relatively stable, although this estimate may change when closing sheep stocks become available, the CSO maintained.

With pig prices up by 19% and poultry prices up by 5% in 2023, their values increased by 7% and 8% respectively.

IFA response

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Francie Gorman said the latest figures only further highlight the pressures that farmers are facing at farmgate.

"There is a price squeeze still taking place and margins are eroding on farms.

"The net effect for farmers is that the shock to the system of spiralling input costs, caused primarily by the Ukraine war, is still having a big impact.

“What these CSO figures show is that others in the food chain have to recognise the pressures on farmers. They cannot expect quality food to arrive on supermarket shelves at a loss to the primary producer,” he said.

Part of the frustration for farmers is that the cost of regulation is adding to the overall burden on farmers, he added.

“The message from our ongoing ‘Enough is Enough’ [protest campaign] is that farmers cannot be taken for granted. Our Government and the [European] Commission have to take this into account when it comes to designing farm policy,” he concluded.

ICMSA reply

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president Denis Drennan has said that “the dashboard lights are turning red and blinking fast” after the CSO’s 2023 figures.

He noted how the single biggest sectoral component of the fall was the decline in the value of dairy output and added the fall since 2021 was as much a function of policy disfunction as it was market sentiment.

“These figures should make every Department [of Agriculture] official and rural TD sit up straight and focus very quickly. Can you imagine the outcry if, say, the value of Irish pharmaceutical or tech had collapsed by 36% in two years.

"It’s just a question now of whether the Government wants to see them or whether we wait for the engine of rural Ireland to be damaged beyond repair," Drennan said.