Small farms are generally more environmentally sustainable than larger farms, Teagasc’s Small Farm Survey has found.

Teagasc stated 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”.

The study reported that lower stocking rates and less chemical fertiliser applications leave small farms with lower overall levels of greenhouse emissions.

Despite covering 15% of the country’s farmed area, these farms are responsible for only 4% of Irish agriculture’s emissions.

The study noted that emissions per kilogramme of liveweight gain are higher on these farms due to an average older age at slaughter than other farms, but this analysis did not include emissions associated with bought in fertiliser and feed.

The survey found that chemical nitrogen application on small beef farms was 2.5 times lower than it was on other beef farms, with this dropping to three times lower on small sheep farms relative to other sheep farms.

Teagasc also noted that the extensive farming practices and low stocking rates associated with smaller farms means that they are “likely to be an important repository for biodiversity”.

The authority is currently undertaking research to examine how small farms’ role in maintaining habitats can be measured.