Following the 'difficult year' experienced by farmers across all sectors in 2014, the Single Farm Payment continues to play a vital role for the Northern Ireland farming industry, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Ian Marshall.

He said it is not surprising that farm incomes were down in 2014 and the figures highlight the challenging cash flow situation faced by many farmers.

The comments were made following DARD’s publication of the provisional estimates for Farm Incomes in 2014, which indicates that the Total Income from Farming (TIFF) in Northern Ireland fell by 16% in 2014.

The UFU President said 2014 was a tough year financially for farmers.

"In particular market volatility across all sectors meant farm gate prices were hit hard and this unpredictability has posed a serious challenge to managing business cash flows.

"Hardly any of our commodities have been spared, beef producers experienced an 8% decrease in their prices throughout the year, while dairy and pig prices suffered as well. Also, farmers in the arable sector bore their share of the effects of market volatility with the total output value of field crops falling 19% in 2014, largely due to the reduction in producer prices for barley and potatoes."

According to Marshall, a disappointing Sterling to euro exchange rate only compounded the issue, with farmers losing a total of £20m from their 2014 Single Farm Payments.

Despite this, he said it is clear from the figures that the Single Farm Payment continues to play a vital role in our farming industry, making up 87% of our total farm income.

“Based on the latest figures, it is safe to say that farm business profitability remains one of the most important issues facing farmers today. It is startling that the Single Farm Payment still makes up the majority of our farming income and with the recent major reforms to the CAP many farmers, in particular many beef farmers, are facing a future with a greatly reduced direct payment.

"Never has a single integrated supply chain, which delivers profitability for all partners, been more important," he said.

According to Marshall, processors and retailers who continue to rely on farmers receiving direct payments to pad out cheaper food prices for consumers are putting Northern Ireland’s entire agri-food industry at risk.