Changes in Agriculture in the Western Region

Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy. This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts examining agricultural statistics for the Western Region, the changes which have been occurring in agriculture and issues for the future of farming in the region.

Farm size

The average farm size in the Western Region (counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) was 26.3 ha in 2010[1]. Farm sizes are significantly smaller than in the rest of Ireland where the average farm in 2010 was 36.9 ha (the average farm size in Ireland as a whole was 32.7 ha in 2010).

Nonetheless farm size in the Western region has grown by a third since 1991 when the Western Region average was 19.8 ha with most of the growth occurring in the 1990s (almost 27% of the growth occurred between 1991 and 2000).

Chart 1: Average Farm Size (ha) in Western Region Counties 1991, 2000, 2010

avg farm size chart 1

Source: CSO Census of Agriculture 2000, 2010

Farm size varies considerably by county, with Clare having significantly larger farm size in (32.6 ha) than the average for the region, while Mayo has the smallest average farm size (22.4 ha). Nonetheless the largest increase in average farm size occurred in Mayo (37.9% between 1991 and 2010). Again most of this increase in farm size occurred in the 1990s (almost 35% of the overall growth) and the rate of growth slowed significantly between 2000 and 2010.


Number of farms

As would have been expected the number of farms in the Western Region declined significantly (16.9%) between 1991 and 2000 but almost all of this change occurred between 1991 and 2000 (16.4% decline) showing that the number of farms stabilised in the last decade. The drop in farm numbers in the Western Region was slightly smaller than that for the rest of Ireland where there was an 18.7% decrease in the number of farms in that period.

Chart 2: Number of farms in Western Region Counties 1991, 2000, 2010

number of farms chart 2

Source: CSO Census of Agriculture 2000, 2010

In both Sligo and Clare there were more than a fifth fewer farms in 2010 than in 1991, while in Donegal the drop in farm numbers was only 9.7% with the number of farms actually increasing in Donegal between 2000 and 2010.


Area farmed

There was an unexpected increase of more than 10% in the area farmed in the Western Region from 1.335m ha in 1991 to 1.476m ha in 2010[2]. This increase occurred in all of the Western Region counties except Clare (-1.0%) in that period, with the largest increase in the area farmed in Donegal (22.7%) and Mayo (15.2%).

Chart 3: Area Farmed (ha) in Western Region Counties 1991, 2000, 2010

area farmed chart 3 v2

Source: CSO Census of Agriculture 2000, 2010

The area farmed in the rest of Ireland decreased slightly between 1991 and 2010 but while it had fallen in the 1990s (-2.4%) there was a 2.0% increase between 2000 and 2010.

This increase in the area farmed requires further investigation but it may relate to more accurate measurement and mapping of farms for the purposes of claims under CAP schemes, including the Single Farm Payment.



There have been significant changes in farming in the last two decades, in response to changing markets and policy incentives and off farm opportunities. Average farm size grew as the number of farms decreased, but it was also associated with an overall increase in the area farmed.

Agriculture is a significant element of the economy of the Western Region and is, of course, particularly important in rural areas. It is important that we have a good understanding of the patterns of change to farming in the Region, and the particular needs of western farming so that we can consider the best ways of maintaining this part of the local economy and so that it can continue to contribute to our rural society.


Helen McHenry


[1] All data in this post is from the Census of Agriculture 2010 (CSO,2012).
[2] These figures exclude common land