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Assessing the Sustainability of Irish Agriculture


  • Emma J. Dillon

    () (Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland)

  • Thia Hennessy

    (Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland)

  • Stephen Hynes

    (Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland)

  • Verena Commins

    (Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland)


Indicators encompassing the multi-dimensional nature of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) are developed here using National Farm Survey data over a ten-year period (1996-2006) to assess the overall sustainability of Irish agriculture. This is the first such study undertaken for Ireland and the results show great change over the decade, in all three areas examined. The general concept of sustainability is discussed and the development of agricultural sustainability indicators in an Irish context described. The usefulness of composite indicators (particularly for this kind of research) is also evaluated. Individual indicators are dealt with in turn and the RERC SMILE model is used to demonstrate how these indicators can be mapped at electoral division level.1 Economic viability was found to be generally in decline over the ten-year period examined, however, when individual farming systems were taken into account, some were found to perform better than others. Unsurprisingly the more intensive farming systems (primarily dairy) were found to pollute more on average, and a case is then made for the potential trading of emissions permits across farms. Irish agriculture is experiencing a period of fundamental change, not least in terms of the ever-changing rural demographic; the challenge therefore lies in ensuring that farms remain economically, environmentally and socially sustainable in the long-term.

Suggested Citation

  • Emma J. Dillon & Thia Hennessy & Stephen Hynes & Verena Commins, 2008. "Assessing the Sustainability of Irish Agriculture," Working Papers 0809, Rural Economy and Development Programme,Teagasc.
  • Handle: RePEc:tea:wpaper:0809

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bohringer, Christoph & Jochem, Patrick E.P., 2007. "Measuring the immeasurable -- A survey of sustainability indices," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 1-8, June.
    2. Michela Nardo & Michaela Saisana & Andrea Saltelli & Stefano Tarantola & Anders Hoffman & Enrico Giovannini, 2005. "Handbook on Constructing Composite Indicators: Methodology and User Guide," OECD Statistics Working Papers 2005/3, OECD Publishing.
    3. Giuseppe Munda, 2005. "“Measuring Sustainability”: A Multi-Criterion Framework," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 117-134, January.
    4. van Calker, K.J. & Berentsen, P.B.M. & Romero, C. & Giesen, G.W.J. & Huirne, R.B.M., 2006. "Development and application of a multi-attribute sustainability function for Dutch dairy farming systems," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(4), pages 640-658, June.
    5. Rigby, Dan & Woodhouse, Phil & Young, Trevor & Burton, Michael, 2001. "Constructing a farm level indicator of sustainable agricultural practice," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 463-478, December.
    6. Alan Matthews & Jean-Christophe Bureau, 2005. "EU Agricultural Policy: What Developing Countries Need to Know," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp91, IIIS.
    7. Zhou, P. & Ang, B.W. & Poh, K.L., 2006. "Comparing aggregating methods for constructing the composite environmental index: An objective measure," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 305-311, September.
    8. Layte, Richard & Maitre, Bernard & Nolan, Brian & Watson, Dorothy & Williams, James & Casey, Barra, 2001. "Monitoring Poverty Trends and Exploring Poverty Dynamics in Ireland," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number PRS41.
    9. Pannell, David J. & Glenn, Nicole A., 2000. "A framework for the economic evaluation and selection of sustainability indicators in agriculture," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 135-149, April.
    10. Michael Freudenberg, 2003. "Composite Indicators of Country Performance: A Critical Assessment," OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers 2003/16, OECD Publishing.
    11. Andrew Sharpe, 2004. "Literature Review of Frameworks for Macro-indicators," CSLS Research Reports 2004-03, Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
    12. Gomez-Limon, Jose Antonio & Riesgo, Laura, 2008. "Alternative Approaches On Constructing A Composite Indicator To Measure Agricultural Sustainability," 107th Seminar, January 30-February 1, 2008, Sevilla, Spain 6489, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
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    1. Darragh Clancy & A. Kazukauskas & C. Newman & Fiona Thorne, 2009. "An investigation of the level of structural change in the agrifood sector of Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands," Working Papers 0915, Rural Economy and Development Programme,Teagasc.

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