Northern Ireland farm incomes plunge £10k in a year and Brexit is still to come
Farmers across Northern Ireland have seen their incomes plummet by almost £10,000 in a single year.
The total cash income, including subsidies, fell from an average of £42,784 in 2014/15 to £33,673 the following year, according to a report by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
The average farming business income fell too, from £25,094 to just £14,788.
But it wasn't all bad news, and, with subsidies taken into account, two of seven farm types actually saw their incomes increase - general cropping by more than £4,000 and cattle and sheep by £1,522.
When direct subsidies were not included, however, it was only pig farms which generated any money. All the others - cereals, general cropping, dairy, mixed farms as well as hill and lowland cattle and sheep farms - lost cash.
Direct payments - which cover a range of subsidies including the Basic Payment Scheme, formerly the Single Farm Payment, as well as the Areas of Natural Constraint payments, which used to be the Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowance - decreased by almost £500 per farm between 2014/15 and the following year, averaging £24,972 per farm.
Industry experts warn the financial situation for Northern Irish farmers could be drastically hit by Brexit if the right assurances aren't put in place before Britain leaves the EU.
"There is no question that farm business profitability remains the single most important issue facing farmers," said Ulster Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell. "Clearly the supply chain is not delivering proper returns for farmers, which is why direct support payments remain absolutely essential for farm incomes. In this Brexit era, and given the long term nature of farming, we need a commitment from the UK Government that they will support agriculture.
"Funding after 2020 is crucial to provide us with more certainty and confidence going forward so that UK consumers can continue to source the food locally at the standards that they expect." Other elements of the report included the news that farmers' spouses on 26% of farms were employed elsewhere, while on 5% of farms the farmer themselves had other work.
On another 2% of farms, both the farmer and their spouse had income from somewhere else. Off-farm income averaged more than £9,000 per farm.
External liabilities, made up mainly of bank loans, average £51,177 per farm, although 44% of farms recorded no bank borrowings at all. Of the farms which had borrowed money, 80% owed less than £50,000.
Over the past eight years, business income on dairy farms has been an average of £22,408 higher per farm than the same for cattle and sheep hill farms. Both these farm types account for more than two-thirds of full-time farming businesses across Northern Ireland.
A report earlier this year showed the total income from farming across Northern Ireland had increased by 22% to £244m last year. This was up from £199m in 2015, although down considerably from £336m in 2013 and £312m in 2014.