Off-farm employment contributed to the income for 54% of farm households in 2021, the Teagasc national farm survey (NFS) has found.

The survey also noted that one-third of farm households were in receipt of pension income in 2021.

The proportion of farmers employed off-farm in 2021 was 34%. However, the situation differed by farm enterprise, with suckler farmers most likely to have off-farm jobs.

In total, 44% of suckler farmers worked off-farm in 2021, a 3% increase from 2020.

The equivalent figure on beef finishing units was 38%, with 36% of sheep farmers having off-farm work. The proportion of tillage farmers employed off farm in 2021 was 35%.

Dairy figures

While just 12% of dairy farmers worked off-farm in 2021, 55% of dairy farm households had an off-farm income as a high proportion of spouses worked outside the farm.

The incidence of household off-farm employment for suckler farms in 2021 was 58%. The comparative figure on beef finishing units was slightly lower at 51%. The figure for sheep holdings was 55%.

Forty-nine percent of tillage farm households had either the farm holder or spouse employed off-farm last year.

Another important source of off-farm income was the old-age and work pensions. One-third of farm households were in receipt of pension income in 2021, reflecting the ageing agricultural population.


Meanwhile, the survey found that 42% of the 800 farms that took part in the NFS were economically viable, with a further 29% classed as sustainable.

A farm business is defined as economically viable if its income is sufficient to pay a family member the minimum wage of €20,129 per year.

However, worryingly, 29% were classified as vulnerable. This figure was back from 32% in 2020.

The proportion of farms categorised as viable was up 7% on 2020, but the proportion classified as sustainable declined by 4%.

Farm viability varies greatly according to the enterprise. While 85% of dairy farms and 72% of tillage operations were classed as viable in 2021, just 16% of suckler holdings were found to be viable.

Similarly, just one third (33%) of sheep farms and 32% of beef finishers were classed as viable.

Thirty-seven percent of both beef finishing and suckler farms were categorised as vulnerable, while the figure for sheep units was 32%.