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 Factsheet on the Irish Agriculture and Food & Drink Sector  

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Food and drink

  • The agri-food and drink sector accounts for 7.1% of Irelands economy-wide GVA, 11% of Ireland’s exports and 8.6% of total employment. (DAFM 2013)
  • In 2013, Irish agri-food and drink exports increased by an estimated 9% to approximately €9.9 bn (Bord Bia 2013).
  • The UK was the main destination for Irish agri-food and drink exports in 2013 accounting for 42% of all exports. 32% of exports went to Continental EU markets while the remaining 26% went to international markets. 

Graph of Irish agri-food and drink exports in 2014

  • The latest estimates of the distribution of our agri-food and drink exports in 2013 by sector are as follows: dairy products and ingredients (30%), prepared consumer foods (17%), beef (21%), live animals (2%), beverages (13%), pigmeat (6%), poultry (2%), sheepmeat (2%), seafood (5%) and edible horticulture (2%).

Primary Agriculture

  • In 2012, Gross Agricultural Output (GAO) was valued at €5.58 billion. (DAFM, 2013).
  • The beef category accounts for the largest share of GAO at 38 per cent, while milk accounts for 29 per cent. Other sectors to have a share in GAO include pig (8%), sheep (4%), cereals (6%), and other (15%)..

Cattle and Beef

  • There were 6.9 million cattle in Ireland according to the June 2013 livestock survey. This represents a 2% increase on prior year levels.
  • Irish beef production is predominately a grass based system, with 518,000 tonnes produced in 2013.
  • In 2013, Ireland exported an estimated 466,000 tonnes of beef worth approximately €2.09 billion.
  • In 2013, 209,000 cattle were exported live from Ireland worth approximately €240 million.

Sheep and Sheepmeat

  • For 2013, the latest June livestock survey indicated that the Irish sheep flock decreased by almost 2% to 5.08 million head, with the breeding flock decreasing by around 1% to 2.65 million head.
  • During 2013, Ireland exported an estimated 45,000 tonnes of sheepmeat which was valued at approximately €220 million.
  • France is the main market for Irish sheepmeat exports, accounting for approximately 41 per cent of total exports in 2013.  The UK is also a substantial export market, taking 22% of shipments.

Pigs and Pigmeat

  • In the June 2013 CSO Livestock Survey, there was 1.55 million pigs in Ireland, this represents a decrease of over 1% on prior year levels.
  • In 2013, Ireland exported an estimated 185,000 tonnes worth approximately €525 million.
  • In 2013, the UK was the main market for Irish pigmeat taking over 44% of our total exports. Continental EU markets accounted for 20% of our pigmeat exports while the remaining 36% went to international markets. 


  • In 2013, total milk output (incl. imports) was estimated at 5,831 million litres.
  • From this total milk output, 480 million litres was consumed as liquid milk. In addition to this 152,000 tonnes of butter were produced in 2013. While 49,000 tonnes of skim milk powder were produced in 2013. 185,000 tonnes of cheese was produced in 2012 (CSO, 2013).
  • In 2013, total dairy and ingredients exports increased by an estimated 15% to €3.045 billion.

Irish Farms

  • There are approximately 139,900 family farms in Ireland with an average size of 32.7 hectares per holding. (CSO, Census of Agriculture 2011).
  • The land area of Ireland is 6.9 million hectares, of which 4.5 million hectares is used for agriculture and a further 760,000 hectares for forestry (DAFM 2013).
  • 81% of agricultural area is devoted to pasture, hay and grass silage (3.67 million hectares), 11% to rough grazing (0.48 million hectares) and 8% to crops, fruit & horticulture production (0.38 million hectares) (DAFM, 2013).
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