Agriculture has been at the very heart of Irish life for generations. In fact, up until the later decades of the 20th century the Irish economy depended almost exclusively on farming.
As we traveled throughout the country, it became evident that cattle and sheep production are important industries. In fact, according to livestock surveys, Ireland has 6.5 million cattle and 4.8 million sheep. While not as evident, surveys report 1.56 million pigs in Ireland. Beef is an important export: in 2011, Ireland exported more than 90 percent of its net beef output, making it the largest beef exporter in the EU and fourth largest in the world.
Approximately 80 percent of agricultural land is devoted to grass (silage, hay and pasture), 11 percent is in rough grazing and the remaining 9 percent is allocated to crop production. Ireland had an extremely hard, long winter in 2012-13. As a result, they weren't able to cut silage and stocks were depleted. The government allowed the grass around the Dublin Airport to be cut and harvested to help farmers.
According to the European Economic Commission (EEC) Representation in Ireland website, agriculture was still the most important trade sector when it became part of the EEC in 1973. The country is now driven by high-tech industry, but global agricultural exports remain important to the Ireland's overall economic importance.
Here are some other Irish agri-facts
- The land area of Ireland is about the same as Nebraska, and about 64 percent of it is used for agriculture
- Approximately 80 percent of agricultural land is devoted to grass (silage, hay and pasture), 11 percent is in rough grazing and the remaining 9 percent is allocated to crop production.
- Farming remains a major industry in Ireland with around 139,800 family farms averaging 32.7 hectares (about 81 acres) per holding dotted around the country, according to the agricultural census of 2010
- Participation in the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) means that as a net exporter, Ireland can benefit significantly from being able to trade agricultural commodities on EU markets, which generally provide better prices than world markets
- Over the past two decades, Ireland has received over €30 billion (US$38.69 billion) in EU net receipts, around 70 percent of which were directly related to agriculture
It is a beautiful country and the landscape is dotted with fields of cattle and sheep. Especially on the western side of the country, fields are defined by thousands of very old, large rocks piled on top of one another. It appeared many farmers used electric fences to supplement the rock fences.