About 1,346,000 ha (3,326,000 acres), or 19.5% of the total area, were devoted to growing crops in 1998. About 6% of the agricultural acreage is used for growing cereals, 1.5% for growing root and green crops, and the balance for pasture and hay. Thus most of the farmland is used to support livestock, the leading source of Ireland's exports. Most farms are small, although there has been a trend toward consolidation. In 1999, agriculture accounted for 8% of Irish employment. Principal crops (with their estimated 1999 production) include barley, 1,278,000 tons; sugar beets, 1,712,000 tons; potatoes, 559,000 tons; wheat, 597,000 tons; and oats, 136,000 tons.
Over half of agricultural production, by value, is exported. The benefits of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which provides secure markets and improved prices for most major agricultural products, account in part for the increase of Ireland's agricultural income from £314 million in 1972 (before Ireland's accession) to £1,919.9 million in 1995. The estimated value of agricultural output was e1.1 billion in 2001.
The government operates a comprehensive network of services within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy, including educational and advisory services to farmers. Under a farm modernization scheme, capital assistance is provided to farmers for land development, improvement of farm buildings, and other projects, with part of the cost borne by the EU. In 1974, pursuant to an European Community directive, incentives were made available to farmers wishing to retire and make their lands available, by lease or sale, for the land reform program.