Almost 25,000 farm households have been classed as "economically vulnerable" by the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Teagasc.

This means they are failing to bring in enough money to live on through farm activities and that neither the farmer nor their spouse has an off-farm job.

The total classed as vulnerable is equivalent to almost a third of all farms nationwide. However, the problem is most acute in the border region.

The data which was collected and analysed by Teagasc as part of the National Farm Survey shows that as many 45% of farms in border counties are classed as "economically vulnerable".

That is 7,000 farm families spread across counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo that are sinking financially - by not making enough money to get by on or to stay in business in the medium term.

Teagasc said difficulties finding off-farm employment in border counties is part of the problem.

The survey data show that the southeast of the country is the most profitable region for farming. Over 50% of farms in the southeast are viable.

That means they are earning more than the minimum agriculture wage per unit of labour and also making a return of at least 5% per year on the money invested in farm machinery, buildings and livestock.

Only 16% of farms in the west of Ireland satisfy this definition of viability, the lowest by far in the country.

However, the availability of more off-farm employment opportunities in the west improves the economic situation for farm families there, and results in just 34% of farms in the west of Ireland being classed as vulnerable.

The survey also shows a clear trend towards a two-tier farm sector in Ireland with a very high degree of viability among dairy farms compared with cattle and sheep farms.

As many as 80% of dairy farms are classed as economically viable while only 15% of cattle rearing farms make that grade.