The number of agricultural holdings continues to decrease

According to Statistics Estonia, the preliminary results of the Farm Structure Survey 2016 indicate that there were 16,700 agricultural holdings with at least one hectare of agricultural area or agricultural holdings mainly producing for sale in Estonia, which is approximately 2,500 holdings less than three years ago.

Although the number of dairy and pig farmers has decreased in the last three years, it appears that they have mainly reorganised their activities. The agricultural holdings that have terminated their activities are likely primarily the ones that only maintain their lands, i.e. agricultural holdings with no agricultural production, but whose permanent grassland maintained in good agricultural and environmental conditions is also considered as utilised agricultural area. This is a logical result of administrative restrictions. The agricultural area has not been removed from use, but is now in the possession of active agricultural producers.

Whereas the number of small holdings has decreased many times over a long period (by 6,600 holdings in the last ten years), the size of agricultural area has experienced a growth trend for a while. It has increased by more than 88,000 hectares in ten years, incl. by more than 37,000 hectares in the last three years, and already amounts to 995,000 hectares.

As of 1 September 2016, there were 6,970 holdings in Estonia that kept farm animals, poultry or bees. In the past decade, the number of holdings with animals has decreased by two times. The number of holdings engaged in cattle and pig farming as well as sheep and poultry farming has decreased. Mainly holdings of natural persons with a small number of animals have terminated their livestock farming activities. In the last three years, 790 holdings, i.e. every third, finished keeping dairy herds. Two thirds of them kept 1–2 cows for their own consumption purposes. Especially noticeable is the five-fold decrease in the number of pig farmers. Whereas until 2013 livestock farming increased also in terms of livestock units despite major decline in the number of livestock farmers, in the last three years it has decreased mainly as a result of reduction in dairy herds and pig farming.

As a result of constantly increasing concentration, Estonian agriculture has developed a structure where 1,300 holdings, i.e. 8% of total number of holdings, provide 81% of the total agricultural output. They use 67% of utilised agricultural area and in their possession is 81% of livestock farming, measured in livestock units. Although the number of dairy cows in large holdings has decreased in the past three years, the majority of dairy cows (63%) are still kept in holdings with at least 300 animals. Almost all pig farming is now in large holdings, and 97% of pigs are kept in holdings with at least 1,000 pigs. Poultry farming is also very concentrated in Estonia – 97% of poultry are kept in poultry houses with at least 1,000 poultry.

Despite the continuous decrease in the number of small holdings, their large share still characterises Estonian agriculture. Holdings with economic size less than 4,000 euros constitute 54% of the total number of holdings, but all together they yield less than 2% of total standard output of agricultural holdings. While production concentration into larger holdings is characteristic of the entire European Union, a large share of small holdings with minimum output is more typical of Eastern European countries.

Along with the concentration in production, the share of rented land has increased year by year. While ten years ago, the share of rented land was 55% of agricultural area, it had reached already 65% in 2016. In the past three years, the share of rented land and other tenure (mainly land used free of charge) has increased by 4%. Agricultural land is rented more by larger legal persons. While the share of owned land constituted the majority (77%) of the agricultural area of holdings with less than 10 hectares and about 35% of the agricultural area of holdings with 50 to 100 hectares (the rest being rented land and other tenure), it constituted only about 30% of the agricultural area of holdings with at least 100 hectares, the majority of the agricultural area being rented land.

The Farm Structure Survey 2016 was organised by harmonised methodology and with co-funding from the European Commission in all European Union member states. The Farm Structure Survey provided data also about the labour force of agricultural holdings, production methods and rural development. Statistics Estonia conducted the survey in Estonia. All data about Estonia are published in 2017.

Source: Statistics Estonia
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