Teagasc (The Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) released its latest sustainability report focusing on 2022. The report is based on a detailed analysis of data collected through the Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS). The Teagasc NFS is part of the European Union’s Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN). The following results are based on a sample of 80 specialist sheep farms, and these are population weighted to represent 13,979 sheep farms nationally. Economic, environmental and social indicators were assessed, including farm income, labour input, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ammonia emissions, N & P use efficiency, household characteristics and technology adoption. To access a relationship between non-economic indicators and the economic performance of the farm (i.e. GHG emission per kg of output), the farms were classified into top, middle and bottom performing groups based on the gross margin per hectare.
Economic indicators: The average gross output per hectare for sheep farms was €1,475 in 2022, and the average gross margin was €625 per hectare. Across all sheep farms, 26% were defined as economically viable (economically viable means family labour is remunerated at greater than or equal to the minimum wage and there is also sufficient income generated by the farm to provide an additional 5% return on non-land based assets employed on the farm). The average income per unpaid labour unit on sheep farms was €14,890. Although there was a wide range in economic performance within the studied farms, the average income for the three farmer groups was €20,111, €10,688 and €3,969 for top, middle and bottom economic performing farms, respectively. On average, approximately 65% of output was generated from the market, with the remaining 36% derived from direct payments. The top performing cohort produced 76% of the output from the market, while the weaker economic performing third on farmers only 49%. The average family farm income per hectare on sheep farms was €340 in 2022. Again, the results ranged between €641 (top performing farms) and €68 (bottom performing farms).
Environmental Sustainability Indicators:
The GHG emissions from the sheep sector was measured using IPCC methodology. In 2022, the average sheep farm generated 136.2 tonnes of CO2eq of agricultural GHG emissions. However, it must be noted that the sheep enterprise generated 54.4% of these emissions, while 45% of the emissions were emitted by cattle present on the sheep farms. Top and middle performing farms generated less emission per kg of live-weight sheep meat output produced or 6.9 to 9.4 kg CO2eq, respectively, compared to the bottom economic performing cohort (11.6 kg CO2eq). An average sheep farm had energy related GHG emissions of 160 kg CO2eq per hectare. Higher GHG energy emissions were found on the better performing farms. Although lower energy related GHG emissions per unit of output (live-weight sheep meat produced) were observed for the top and middle performing farms (0.37 and 0.45 kg CO2eq per kg of live-weight sheep meat) compared to the economically weaker farms (0.80 kg CO2eq per kg of live-weight sheep meat). On average, specialist sheep farms had 560 kg of NH3 emissions in 2022, but cattle produced 64% of those emissions on these sheep farm. Ammonia emission per hectare was higher on the economically better performing farms due to a higher stocking rate per hectare. The average national figure was 12.7 kg of NH3 per hectare in 2022. However, NH3 emission per kg of live-weight sheep meat was lower on the top and middle economic performing farms. The national average for NH3 emissions per kg of live-weight sheep meat was 0.022 kg. Nitrogen balance (or nitrogen surplus per hectare) was positively associated with the economic performance of the sheep farms. The results varied between 15.6 kg per hectare on the economically weaker farms, followed by 30.6 and 44.3 kg per hectare on the middle and top economically performing farms. The average N use efficiency (NUE) across all sheep farms was 37.6%. Phosphorus balance varied between 2 and 4 kg per hectare across all specialist sheep farms in 2022. The phosphorus use efficiency (PUE) averaged 78.3% across all sheep farms. Nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency were positively associated with the economic performance of the farms, and the higher nutrient use efficiencies were observed on the economically better performing sheep farms.
Social Sustainability Indicators:
A household is defined as vulnerable if the farm enterprise is not economically viable and the farmer or farmer’s spouse has no off-farm employment income. An average of 29% of all specialist sheep farm households were considered vulnerable in 2022. This figure was lower for the top economically performing farms (or 10% of households) than the weaker performing farms (39%). An average of 13% of all specialist sheep farms were classified as at risk of isolation or living alone. Results indicate that an average of 28% of specialist sheep farm households have had a high age profile (farmer is over 60 years old, and there are no household members under 45). In general, 60% of sheep farmers have received formal agricultural education. The level of agricultural education was higher among the top and middle third of farms when ranked by economic performance. On average, sheep farmers worked 1,477 hours on the farm per year or 28.4 hours a week. The top and bottom performing farmers tend to work the most hours on a farm at 1,508 to 1,514 hours, compared to the middle group at 1,407 hours. If off-farm employment was included in the total hours worked, the average sheep farmer worked 2,246 hours per year or approximately 43.2 hours per week.
Sheep Farm Innovation Indicators:
The five innovation indicators selected for sheep farms were: 1) whether at least 50% of slurry application occurred in the period January to April, 2) the proportion of chemical N fertiliser applied in the form of Protected Urea, 3) the application of lime, 4) grassland reseeding and 5) whether or not the farm operator was a member of a discussion group. More slurry application in the springtime was observed on the farms with better economic performance, between 23-26% for top and middle performing farms, compared to 19% bottom performing third. However, it should be noted that a sheep farm system is more associated with solid farmyard manure, which is usually applied later in the year. The use of protected urea was limited among all specialised sheep farms in 2022, only 2% of N fertiliser was applied in the form of protected urea on average across these farms. Liming rates were again higher on the better economically performing farms (35% of middle performing farms) compared to 12% of the bottom performing group. Reseeding rates were a little over 10% on average, with higher levels observed on the top economically performing farms. On average 17% of specialist sheep farms were part of a discussion group. Membership of a discussion group was higher (24%) among the top cohorts versus 10% for bottom group.
Buckley, C., Donnellan, T., 2023. Teagasc National Farm Survey Sustainability Report 2022. Available: https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/publications/2023/SustainabilityReport2022.pdf.