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Farmers need cured of their heavy metal disease: Bank

By Chris McCullough

Published 10/02/2016

A tractor in a field, and (right) John Henning, Danske’s head of agricultural relations
A tractor in a field, and (right) John Henning, Danske’s head of agricultural relations
John Henning, Danske’s head of agricultural relations

Financially stretched farmers have been urged to reconsider spending huge sums of money on tractors and other equipment.

The latest figures show that while income from farming fell by more than 40% last year, the outlay on tractors fell by a smaller 30%, suggesting plenty in the industry were still shelling out.

Speaking at an event at Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium, Danske Bank's head of agricultural relations John Henning said the fall in farm machinery sales was not in sync with the fall in incomes.

Mr Henning added there was a culture in Northern Ireland for farmers to have large tractors and other pieces of expensive machinery sitting in their yards, costing them lots of money.

He referred to farmers as having a "heavy metal disease". "Investment in farm machinery is not falling as quick as the total income from farming," said Mr Henning.

"Some farmers have heavy metal disease, which needs to be cured.

"Heavy investment in machinery can be a huge burden on farm finances."

However, Waringstown dairy farmer Charlie Weir said farms needed the latest machinery to run an efficient business.

He added: "Machinery manufacturers offer zero per cent finance deals on machinery to ensure farmers retain a certain level of cashflow to keep the farms running - something that the banks don't do.

"We need good, reliable, efficient machinery in order to keep our costs down, but of course there is a limit as to what we can justify. Some farmers may have overspent when milk prices were high and are finding it tough to make the repayments now we are in the more difficult times.

"As there is nothing we can do about the price we receive for milk, we have to look at ways of cutting costs, and having the most efficient machinery is one way of reducing costs.

"Also, with the poor Northern Ireland weather, we have a short opportunity to get onto fields to spread slurry or cut silage.

"When time is as tight as this, the bigger machinery can do the jobs in a shorter time, again saving on diesel and operator costs."

The total income from farming in Northern Ireland fell from £312m in 2014 to £183m in 2015 - a worrying decline of approximately 41%.

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