Farmers' fresh pastures as bank rolls out £50,000 loans
Northern Ireland farmers will no longer be letting the grass grow under their feet after Ulster Bank launched its first-ever 'pasture loan'.
The facility allows farmers to borrow up to £50,000 over five years to improve grass management and hopefully increase profitability.
Ulster Bank said the loan was designed for dairy, beef and sheep farmers.
Dairy farmers are under particular pressure at the minute thanks to falling prices and the as-yet unknown impact of the end of milk quotas this month after 31 years of limits imposed by the EC/EU.
During 2014 prices for Northern Ireland dairy farmers fell 6% to 29.7p per litre - though volume produce shot up to a new high of 2.2bn litres.
Cormac McKervey, senior agricultural manager at Ulster Bank, said grass growth rates can make a "significant difference" to the profitability of a farm.
"We're proud to be introducing this new support for local farming," he said.
"When supported by investment and maintained to a high standard, grass can be a core profit-producing asset on a farm and can make a real difference in the competitive advantage of milk, beef and lamb production," he added.
Mr McKervey said UIster Bank had a range of products and services aimed at farmers and agri-businesses.
"We are the only bank to have accredited agri-experts who have been awarded the Certificate in Agricultural Finance from Chartered Banker so I would encourage customers who would like to discuss this loan and other services to get in touch with us," he said.
Farmers will be eligible for the loan for projects such as improving grazing infrastructure with paddock or water systems, as well as drainage, reseeding and improvements to soil fertility.
The bank said repayment schedules were set "to match cash-flow".
Agriculture is big business for Northern Ireland's banks.
Ulster Bank is the sponsor of the high-profile Royal Ulster Agricultural Society showcase, the Balmoral Show, which takes place from May 13-15 outside Lisburn.
Danske Bank, meanwhile, sponsors the winter-time equivalent, the Winter Fair.
And First Trust recently announced the appointment of a specialist agri-advisor.
In a recent forecast, Danske Bank predicted a contraction of 0.5% in the agri sector in Northern Ireland during 2015, as shrinking global commodity prices and the falling euro make it tougher to compete.
But Owen Brennan, the head of agri-business Devenish Nutrition, said businesses needed to focus on "optimising market opportunity" overseas in order to overcome challenges at home.