Agricultural revolution on way as farmers battle for resources
IRISH agriculture is on the cusp of a revolution that will see dairy farmers go head-to-head with grain growers and beef producers in a battle to secure more land over the next seven years.
In addition, demand for land from the forestry and bioenergy sectors is expected to grow between now and 2020.
However, everyone will be fighting for the same land bank.
Three-quarters of all the land in Ireland is under farming or forestry. The total land area of Ireland is 6.9 million hectares (17.05 million acres), of which about 4.2 million hectares (10.4 million acres) is used for farming and 745,456 hectares (1,842,061 acres) for forestry.
Dairy production is set to increase by 50pc over 2009 levels under the Government's Food Harvest 2020 targets, while beef output is targeted for a 40pc hike in output value.
This week Teagasc, the national agricultural advisory and research body, predicted that tillage and energy crops could grow by 63pc from 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) to 572,500 hectares (1,415,000 acres ) over the next seven years.
The area under forestry is forecast to grow by 74,500 hectares (184,000 acres).
The forecasts were contained in a series of '2020 Road Maps' that outline how each farming sector will develop over the next seven years.
Plans for a national audit of Ireland's farmland to identify tracts of land that are underused are being examined by officials in the Department of Agriculture.
The move follows calls from the young farmers organisation Macra na Feirme for a countrywide land use audit. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has indicated that he supports the idea of an audit to examine how land is being used in Ireland.
"The minister has indicated that he would support the concept of carrying out an agricultural land use survey, to ensure that the best possible use of land is being made across the country and to assess where strategic opportunities lie for Irish agriculture in the context of the new CAP and the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy," a department spokesman said.
"The minister is currently considering the scope of a survey and the complexities involved and further details will be made available in due course."
Macra na Feirme president Kieran O'Dowd said: "It is crucial that we establish a clear overview of land use and what changes and actions need to be implemented to achieve 30pc growth in production by 2020.
"Macra looks forward to working with the Department of Agriculture to move this proposal forward and ensure best of use of land."