NI farm income up in 2017 – but so are costs

The bottom line on the average Northern Ireland farm is sitting £15,952 (€18,215) up on the year before, according to the latest figures – but for some sectors it could be a rise before a fall.

Farm income measured across all farm types is expected to increase from an average of £21,928 (€25,040) in 2016-17 to £37,880 (€43,255) in 2017-18. Year-on-year it equates to an increase of 73%.

‘Farm Business Income’ is also expected to rise again for dairy, pigs and mixed farm types in 2017-18.

The boost in income is mainly attributed to higher milk and pig prices in the 2017-18 accounting year.

Farm Business Income results are based on farm accounts collected as part of the Northern Ireland Farm Business Survey (FBS).

This is a representative sample of farms larger than 0.5 Standard Labour Requirements. The farm income figures presented are for accounting years with an average end date of mid-February.

Falling incomes on the cards for some sectors

However, the results also show that Farm Business Income is expected to fall by varying amounts on: cereals; cattle and sheep in less favourable areas; and lowland cattle and sheep farms in 2017-18.

These farm types also experienced higher product prices in 2017-18 but the rises were deemed insufficient to offset the combined effect of reduced income from agri-environment schemes and the extra weather-related costs incurred.

Rising input prices

But, while farm turnover is increasing so are the cost of inputs; the total value of gross inputs increased by 8% in 2017.

It meant farmers spent a whopping £1.45 billion (€1.66 billion) on running costs including feed, fuel and machinery.

Feedstuff costs, which accounted for 54% of the total gross input estimate, rose by 11% to £783 million (€894 million) in 2017. There was a 9% increase in the volume of feed purchased and a 2% increase in the average price paid per tonne.

The total cost of fertiliser purchases in 2017 rose by 20% as a result of a 16% rise in the volume purchased and a 3% increase in the average price paid per tonne.

There was a 6% reduction in total lime purchases, with the result that total expenditure on fertilisers and lime was £84 million (€96 million).

Total machinery expenses increased by 4% to £143 million (€163 million) in 2017, as a result of an 8% increase in the cost of fuel and oils. This is in line with the global commodity price during the year.