The agrifood sector is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of Ireland, especially in rural and coastal areas. Primary agrifood output in 2018 was approximately €8.5 billion and the vast majority of this was produced by farm families.
Teagasc in its Outlook 2020 published yesterday stated that the average family farm income in Ireland increased by an estimated 7% in 2019. It states that the key drivers of this increase has been a reduction in animal feed use on dairy, beef and sheep farms, compared to 2018, as well as additional supports channelled to cattle producers to alleviate the effects of falling beef prices.
Beef farmers are estimated to see an increase in income of about 10% in 2019 compared to 2018 due to lower costs and the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM. Dairy incomes are estimated to increase by 14% due to higher production. Sheep family farm incomes will remain relatively stable. I appreciate where Deputy Durkan comes from and note that tillage farm incomes are estimated to drop by up to 24% as a result of lower prices, despite higher yields.
Teagasc further states that prospects for 2020 are forecast to see an increase for dairy, sheep and tillage, while beef farm income will be stable.
In 2018, €1.93 billion was paid to farmers by my Department. Direct payments for 2019 commenced in mid-September and over €1.1 billion has been paid to farmers to date. The beef exceptional aid measure provided support to Irish beef farmers to mitigate the market disturbance and sustained period of low prices which has occurred, at least in part due to Brexit uncertainty. A total of 34,517 eligible applications were received under BEAM with a projected payment of up to €78 million due to issue in December.
Brexit undoubtedly remains a challenge for the Irish agrifood sector. Budget 2020 made provision for €110 million to help farmers, fishermen and food SMEs as a first tranche of support in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Over the last four budgets, the Government has acted to assist farming to navigate the challenges of Brexit through a variety of supports.
Discussions on the new CAP proposals continue at EU level. I continue to work at building consensus among my agriculture colleagues in Europe to maintain the CAP budget and ensure the best possible outcome for Irish farmers from the CAP post-2020 negotiation process.