The Meat and Potatoes of Agriculture in Ireland
In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, let’s take a journey across the pond and explore agriculture in Ireland. Let’s explore how the Irish farm those lush, verdant hills and find out why beef is king, and potatoes still rule on the Emerald Isle!
Nicknamed the Emerald Isle by poet William Drennan, Ireland is doubly blessed with pastoral beauty and distinct soil and weather conditions that have evolved into a thriving multi-billion-dollar beef export shipping nearly 518 metric tons of product annually.
Fertile soil, ample rainfall, and the Gulf Stream’s temperate influence conspire to create ideal conditions for ryegrass growth, an inexpensive and perfect feed for most livestock.
This sets the perfect stage for successful agriculture in Ireland and the stockmanship of one of this country’s biggest Irish exports, Beef. Estimated at $3.8 billion per year, Ireland’s total beef export occupies the country’s top slot in annual agricultural output.
Top export destinations include the United States, United Kingdom, the United States, China, France, and the Netherlands.
Brazil is the largest exporter of beef in the world, followed by Australia and the United States.
However impressive Brazilian beef might be in topping the global meat charts, Ireland’s 7th place ranking in the largest beef export index is particularly noteworthy considering it has one of the smallest land masses of these otherwise behemoth countries that dominate the top ten!
Irish farming is a small holdings enterprise, with most livestock farms operating on an average of 81 acres (about the area of a large shopping mall). With Ireland’s total landmass measuring approximately 70,273 square kilometers (about the area of South Carolina), the scale of Irish farms is reasonable in ratio.
Of Ireland’s 17 million acres, 64% of that landmass is devoted to ag production which means 64% of all of Ireland is occupied by farms.
The Census of Agriculture found over 139,000 active farm holdings, with 80% of those having animals on their property. Beef production from grass stands at the forefront of Irelands Agriculture with 1 million Suckler Cows leading the pack.
Beef and milk accounted for 66% of all Ireland’s agricultural output in 2018. The size of the Irish population is approximately 5.2 million. So, relative to its annual output of beef, only 10% is consumed domestically each year resulting in the export of 90% of its beef and 85% of its dairy.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Marine Irish Agri-Food sector contributes approximately $24 billion a year to the national economy and comprises 7.4% of the federal employment.
By contrast, American farms typically operate on 443 acres (about twice the total floor space of the Pentagon) on average, making sense considering the U.S. landmass is approximately 140 bigger than the Irish. American agriculture makes up 10.2% of US employment and the output of its farms contributes $137 billion annually to the US economy.
Fun Facts About Irish Agriculture:
- Believe it or not, cows are Ireland’s most populace resident outnumbering the human population by a whopping 2 million!
- We owe the Irish a debt of gratitude for that universal favorite Chocolate Milk! Though often thought of as an American phenomenon, chocolate milk has its roots in 17th century Ireland. The birth of this milky treat is credited to Dr. Hans Sloane who witnessed Jamaicans adding cacao to water and decided to add to milk instead. Later, grocer Nicholas Sanders would sell Sloane’s mixture as medicine!
- In 1926 Irish mechanic Harry Ferguson patented the basic tractor and three-point hitch designs that are still used today.
Let’s Talk About Spuds!
Any mention of Irish farming would be incomplete without reference to the ubiquitous potato! Irish potato farming is world renown.
With over 700 growers and 300 large commercial farms, the humble potato crop makes up 25% of Ireland’s annual crop output worth an estimated $111 million dollars. Spuds remain Ireland’s go-to carbohydrate with Irish households spending an estimated $242 million per year.
That is a lot of potatoes in Ireland!
Rooster is one the most popular variety of potato plants in Ireland followed by Kerr’s Pink.
Despite its historic popularity, this cash crop fell into decline from 2000 to 2013. Its dramatic plummet was followed by a swift rebound in market demand with the help of advertising and consumer promotions and demand growth from Covid-19.
Climate change has been a big factor affecting growers ranging from summer drought and spring frost to wet autumn seasons. Growers have adapted and created risk mitigation strategies by building scale and investing in Ag Tech Solutions to improve efficiency.
Dublin Ireland will play host to this year’s 11th World Potato Congress from May 30th to June 2nd. Founded in 1973 by the Irish Potato Federation the World Potato Congress was originally established to promote and endorse global wholesale potato trade and potato consumption in Ireland.
Today, the WPC enjoys participation from over 1,000 members across the globe from producers, wholesalers, retailers, food manufacturers, machinery and tech providers, international experts, environmental groups, and researchers giving them a forum to exchange innovative “best practices” and insight into global potato developments.
Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day.
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