An investigation into the impact of rural farming on rural economies in Northern Ireland has found that farming and animal farming in the past few decades has led to a significant shift in rural households.
Read more: Farmers are taking out loans to invest in rural businesses and to purchase machinery, tools and machinery.
The study, funded by the European Environment Agency, analysed farm output data from the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and found that the farming sector accounted for approximately 11.3 per cent of the total output of rural businesses.
In terms of total farm output, farm output has increased by 10 per cent since 2005, but is currently just over 5 per cent, the study found.
While this figure may not seem huge, it represents a shift from the previous farming landscape in Northern Britain, which was dominated by large-scale farming.
In 2005, for example, there were 4,500 farms in the United Kingdom, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Today, there are just over 1,300 farms in Northern England.
In rural England, the percentage of farms is at a high point of around 25 per cent.
The increase in the number of farms and the impact on rural incomes are a result of the agricultural sector becoming more competitive, said the study.
In rural areas, the amount of agricultural land used per person fell from 5,800 hectares in 2005 to 3,200 hectares in 2015, but the increase in livestock output was less pronounced, the report found.
Farmers in Northern Wales, where the farming population is slightly larger than Northern Ireland, are also likely to see a decline in income because of the introduction of compulsory land sales.
A large percentage of farm output is consumed by the dairy sector.
This is where the large majority of farming income is derived, said Professor Chris Burden of the Centre for Agricultural Economics at University College Cork.
In the first half of the 20th century, a small percentage of the UK farming population was engaged in dairy farming.
However, since the introduction in 1979 of compulsory sale of the farm to a private company, the market for milk and dairy products has been flooded with competition from foreign competitors.
Farm incomes have declined over the past decade, particularly for people who are involved in livestock and dairy production, with average farm incomes in Northern Irish counties falling by nearly a quarter between 2004 and 2016.
However the dairy industry is expected to be the biggest sector to benefit from the increase, according the report.
The dairy sector in Northern Co Galway, which is in the South Downs, has experienced the largest increase in farm incomes since the 1970s.
The area is now worth around £300 million.
It is estimated that in the first quarter of 2020, the total value of farms in that area would be about £120 million.
This figure will likely grow significantly as the dairy production sector grows, with the average farm income expected to rise by over £100 million in the next two years, the research found.
However as the Northern Irish economy becomes increasingly dependent on the dairy industries, the effect on the farming workforce will likely be greater, according Burden.
The main driver of this shift has been the introduction and expansion of compulsory purchase of livestock and the introduction, in 2009, of compulsory use of land for farming, which has led directly to a fall in rural incomes, he said.
Read More:The report’s author, Professor Chris Walshe, said that despite the economic impact on the rural population, the agricultural economy had changed over time.
“The introduction of farming in Northern areas was one of the first steps in the industrialisation of Northern Ireland and it has affected the entire rural economy,” he said in a statement.
“Today, the farming industry is one of Northern England’s fastest growing sectors, with an annual output of £7.5 billion.”
But the economic and social impact of this change on rural communities will be felt for generations to come.