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National Farm Survey - 2020 Sustainability Report

30 November 2021
Type Report

This report provides the latest available information on farm sustainability performance in Ireland. It is based on detailed analysis of data collected through the Teagasc National Farm Survey. Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability are measured for Dairy, Cattle, Sheep and Tillage farms in 2020.

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Economic sustainability

  • Consistent with the established trend, Dairy remains the powerhouse. Average economic returns in Dairy tend to be multiples of those in the other farm systems.
  • When allowance is made for the amount of labour required in different systems and income is expressed on a per labour unit basis, on average Dairy and Tillage both considerably outperform the drystock sectors
  • For 2020, the economic performance of the average sheep farm improved, reflecting the higher lamb prices in this sector

Social sustainability

  • Again reflecting established trends, Dairy continues to have stronger social sustainability performance relative to other farm systems. Dairy tends to have a lower isolation risk, with fewer households having a high age profile in comparison with other farm systems.
  • However, in terms of labour input, on average the main dairy farm operator works significantly more hours per year than the farm operator in the other farm systems. Even when time spent working off farm is combined with time spent working on-farm, the labour input of dairy farm operators tends to exceed that of other farm systems.

Environmental sustainability

Green-house gas emissions

  • Dairy: Total farm GHG emissions on the average dairy farm increased in 2020, largely due to an increase in the average herd size. However, GHG emissions per hectare on dairy farms remained relatively stable, as the average dairy farm area increased. The GHG emissions intensity of milk production (CO2 per kilogramme of Fat and Protein Corrected Milk) improved. Effectively this means that the average kilogramme of milk was produced with a lower carbon footprint. However, this improvement in GHG emissions intensity was offset by a higher volume of milk produced on the back of a larger average herd size. Hence, farm level GHG emissions increased on dairy farms in 2020.
  • Non-Dairy Systems: Farm level GHG emissions on sheep and tillage farms remained stable in 2020. Farm level emissions on cattle farms declined slightly. Per hectare emissions generally remained stable across these systems.
  • Agriculture as a whole: The decline in cattle GHG emissions offset the increases in dairy farm emissions.
    Teagasc National Farm Survey 2020 Sustainability Report

Ammonia emissions

  • Positive developments are evident. On average, ammonia emissions showed some decline in 2020 relative to preceding years, across all systems on a farm and per hectare basis. It is notable that, on average, ammonia emissions fell even on dairy farms in 2020 in spite of their increase in output.
  • The driver of reduced ammonia emissions is the increased adoption of low emissions slurry spreading. In aggregate terms, 36% of all slurry applied used a LESS (low emission slurry spreading) approach in 2020, compared to just 16% in 2019.

Nitrogen balance and use efficiency

  • N surpluses declined and N use efficiency tended to improve in 2020. These metrics tend to significantly