Minister to challenge processors as NI farm income freefalls

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture has pledged to challenge retailers and supermarkets over prices as the latest departmental figures point to a staggering £203 million drop in farm income in just two years.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) warned the agricultural industry has taken a “significant financial hit” adding that lowland farms, and those in Less Favoured Areas were in “real trouble”.

Income fell across almost all farm commodities according to the first provisional estimate for 2019 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The figures showed ‘Total Income from Farming’ (TIFF) in Northern Ireland fell from £386 million in 2018 to £290 million in 2019 – a drop of £96 million.

Most worrying, it follows another difficult year in 2018 when farm income fell by £107 million.

Also Read: NI farm income crashes more than £100 million in a year

Farms are in ‘real trouble’

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “The figures stress the unsustainable financial situation that farm families across Northern Ireland endured last year as farm income across virtually all commodities experienced a substantial drop.

“It is a clear indicator that the uncertainty farmers have been dealing with combined with increasing machinery, feed and fertiliser prices over the last few years is beginning to seriously impact their farming businesses.

Lowland and Less Favoured Area (LFA) livestock are in real trouble. The LFA cattle and sheep farm business income for 2018/2019 has decreased by £3,357 when compared to 2017/2018 and lowland cattle and sheep farm business income dropped by £4,363.

Farm business income for cattle and sheep (LFA and lowland), cereals, dairy and mixed farm types is expected to fall by varying amounts between 2018/2019 and 2019/2020.

The downturn is mainly attributed to lower output prices in the 2019/2020 accounting year however, pig farms are expected to show an increase in incomes due to higher pig meat prices in 2019/2020.

“The drop in farm income means our farmers now have a greater dependence on agricultural support. These figures illustrate the importance of support payments in sustaining the industry and underpinning its competitive trading position,” Ferguson added.

Minister pledges to challenge processors and retailers

Newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots admitted that poor farm prices had made 2019 a difficult year for many in the industry.

“Our farmers should be properly rewarded for the high-quality produce that they provide,” Minister Poots said.

Poots said: “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the total income from farming figure is well down given that poor farm prices have made 2019 a difficult year for farmers.

“Our farming community are at the very heart of the excellent local food we produce – which enhances our economy, supports tourism and contributes to the sustainability of both the agri-food sector and the environment.  Farmers work extremely hard and maintain very high standards.

“At the moment, they are not being fully rewarded for that effort and this is something that needs to change.

To this end, I will be writing to the main processors and the supermarkets asking how they can help farm businesses to be more sustainable.

“Farm-level estimates show that almost all farm types have suffered, with the situation for cattle and sheep farms having been particularly challenging.

“Poor prices on national and international markets over the past year have been the main factor behind this downturn. Fluctuating market conditions is not a new problem, but it remains a very difficult issue for farmers to address.

“Going forward, I want to work with the farming community to ensure that its desire to improve productivity and become more resilient is fully supported.

“Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to develop a new policy framework for supporting sustainable agriculture which meets local needs and I am determined to make the best of that opportunity.”