UK farm income fall highest in Northern Ireland
Farm incomes have fallen far further and faster in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom, a new report has claimed.
Research by economist Paul Gosling revealed farmers' income shrunk by 17% in real terms in 2014, compared to a fall of just 4% across the rest of the UK.
And almost one in seven farms (14%) in the province is now running at a loss - with severe knock-on effects on employment and the overall economy.
The Belfast Telegraph has repeatedly highlighted the plight of producers in the province's backbone industry over recent months.
One renowned Co Down farmer was receiving 14p for a kilo of potatoes which then sold for £1 in the supermarkets, while a leading Co Armagh producer was getting 8p for turnips which retailed for 10 times more.
The report yesterday revealed the problem of low farmgate prices goes far beyond a few individuals.
"Farming profits are small and in many cases non-existent, leading to a serious problem of poverty within farming families," it said.
"Farms that do not generate profits are unable to employ farm workers, reducing the number of people in work and creating unemployment.
"Both farming families and redundant farm workers have less cash to spend in the wider economy, which is felt in the retail, farm supply and hospitality sectors.
"The impact is particularly severe on the rural economy, which is increasingly becoming marginalised, despite the slow improvement in Northern Ireland's wider economy," Mr Gosling's report concluded.
With the Assembly's Agriculture Committee already pin-pointing cut-throat competition between the major supermarkets as a major factor in the low prices being given to farmers, the report underpinned: "there is a disparity in the power relationships between the farmers and those buying their produce.
"While the buyers are getting themselves into ever stronger bargaining positions, farmers are left with the simple choice of selling at the price determined by the buyers, or else not selling at all.
"It is a dysfunctional market. Without intervention, the market will lead to further destruction of the farming industry. More farmers will go bust (and) more banks will lose money loaned to farmers..."
Mr Gosling's report, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and Farmers For Action UK NI, confirmed prices for agriculture produce have fallen substantially in recent years. For example, pig farm income fell by 24% in the year ending February 2015, while poultry farm income fell by 19% and dairy prices have collapsed with wholesale milk prices now substantially below the cost of production.
Farmers receive on average 19p per litre for milk, compared to production costs of 27p per litre.