Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Farmers represent a rich harvest for bank lenders

If you were going on repetition alone, one of the most memorable things which occurred at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee yesterday was not banking bashing, but in fact something altogether more agricultural.

The appearance of both Ulster Bank and First Trust in front of the committee triggered numerous mentions of how both banks want to hug a farmer, or at least lend money to one.

Agriculture is now seen by lending institutions as the ideal industry to invest in, one which is crucially backed by a large asset base and rising food prices globally.

It wasn't always so.

When this reporter was studying agriculture at university – or farm school as our non-agriculture students referred to it – you didn't have to go far to find a farming lecturer, farmer or farm business owner who would proffer a worried look and advise you to retrain into another industry.

Then wheat was £60 a ton, milk 18p a litre and enthusiasm on the floor.

Lenders were growing bored of the minimal returns from the agriculture sector and, instead, grew to love the sports car driving property developers over their tractor-driving cousins.

Now wheat is £170 a ton, milk just shy of 30p a litre and enthusiasm is through the roof.

Banks are wooing farmers as the saviours of the economy and all but blanking the 'others'.

How long this rosey period will last is difficult to know, but for now farmers really can make hay while the sun shines, obviously in the metaphorical sense only.

And the next time the bank manager calls in for an annual review they can point to the likes of yesterday's meeting in Westminster for evidence that as far-fetched as it sounds, farming is sexy.

Nobody every mentioned that transformation might happen at farm s chool.