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Number of farms continues to decrease

Small farm in Lääne-Viru County.
Small farm in Lääne-Viru County. Source: (Dario Cavegn/ERR)

According to Statistics Estonia, preliminary results of the Farm Structure Survey 2016 indicate that there were 16,700 farms with at least one hectare of land in 2016, approximately 2,500 fewer than three years ago.

Although the number of dairy and pig farmers had decreased in the last three years, it appeared that this had mainly been due to their reorganizing their activities, Statistics Estonia reported on Tuesday. The farms that had given up were likely the ones that only maintained their land, i.e. farms with no agricultural output, but with land of high enough quality and maintenance to consider it a used agricultural area.

Number of farms decreases, mainly small ones giving up

Still, the overall number of small farms had decreased substantially over the years, with some 6,600 small farmers having given up in the last decade alone. Still, the amount of land used for agricultural production had seen plenty of growth for a while now, increasing by more than 88,000 hectares over ten years, including by more than 37,000 hectares in the last three years. Currently the total amounts to some 995,000 hectares.

As of Sept. 1, 2016, there were 6,970 farms in Estonia that kept livestock, poultry, or bees. In the past decade, the number of farms with animals had decreased by half. The number of farms in cattle and pig farming as well as sheep and poultry farming had gone down as well. 

Of the farms that gave up their animals, most were run by individuals rather than companies. 790 farms, i.e. every third, stopped keeping dairy herds. Two thirds of them had kept one or two cows for their own supply.

Consolidation continues

Especially noticeable was the five-fold decrease in the number of pig farms. While until 2013 livestock farming increased in terms of the number of animals despite a major decline in the number of livestock farmers, in the last three years it had decreased mainly as a result of reduction in dairy herds and pig farming.

According to Statistics Estonia, the country has arrived at a point where 1,300 farms, i.e. 8 percent, make up for 81 percent of the total agricultural output. They use 67 percent of utilised agricultural land, and 81 percent of all livestock farming in numbers of animals is done by them.

Although the number of dairy cows on large farms has gone down over the past three years, the majority of dairy cows (63 percent) are still kept on farms with at least 300 animals. Almost all pig farming is now with large farms, and 97 percent of pigs are kept on farms with at least 1,000 pigs. Poultry farming is also very concentrated, with 97 percent of all animals kept by farms with at least 1,000.

Estonia’s agriculture still characterized by small farms

Despite the continuous decrease in the number of small farms, their large share still characterises Estonia’s agriculture. Farms with an economic size of less than €4,000 make up 54 percent of the total number, but yield less than 2 percent of total standard agricultural output. While the concentration of the production on larger farms is characteristic of the entire European Union, a large share of small farms with minimum output is more typical of Eastern European countries.

Along with the concentration in production, the share of rented land has increased every year. While ten years ago the share of rented land amounted to 55 percent of Estonia’s total agricultural area, it reached 65 percent last year.

In the past three years the share of rented land and other tenure (mainly land used free of charge) has increased by 4 percent. Agricultural land is rented more by larger companies. While the share of owned land made up the majority (77 percent) of the agricultural area of farms with less than 10 hectares, and about 35 percent of the agricultural area of holdings with 50 to 100 hectares (the rest being rented land and other tenure), it made up just 30 percent of the agricultural area of holdings with at least 100 hectares, the majority of it being rented land.

The Farm Structure Survey 2016 was organised with co-funding from the European Commission in all European Union member states. It provided data about the labour force of farms, their production methods, and rural development. Statistics Estonia conducted the survey in Estonia.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: Statistics Estonia, ERR

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