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Farming union calls for help as incomes plummet by 25%


Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Farm incomes across Northern Ireland plunged by 25% last year.

Provisional figures from the Department from Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) reveal that total income fell from £386m in 2018 to £290m last year.

Meanwhile average farm incomes are expected to drop by 14% to an average of £24,679 in 2019/20 compared to £28,612 the previous year.

Total gross output for agriculture was 2% lower at £2.15bn in 2019.

There was a 4% decrease in the value of output from the livestock sector, while field crops rose by 7%.

Dairy farming remained the largest contributor to the total gross output at £654m in 2019; a fall of 4%.

Milk prices decreased by 6% to 27.1 pence per litre while the volume of raw milk produced here increased by 2% to 2.4 billion litres.

Fewer cattle were slaughtered last year, while beef prices were down 6.6% on the averages for 2018.

It was a similar pattern in the sheep sector, with fewer animals sent for slaughter and prices down 9%.

Poultry prices were slightly up, though the overall output of the sector was down.

Income in the field rose by 7% to £71m due to increases in the production volumes for both cereals and potatoes.

Mushrooms, the largest contributor to the horticulture sector in value terms, contributed output of £55m.

Ivor Ferguson, President of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) said Northern Ireland's agriculture industry had taken a significant financial hit in the past year.

"The figures stress the unsustainable financial situation that farm families across Northern Ireland endured last year as farm income across virtually all commodities experienced a substantial drop.

"It is a clear indicator that the uncertainty farmers have been dealing with, combined with increasing machinery, feed and fertiliser prices over the last few years, is beginning to seriously impact their farming businesses.

"The drop in farm income means our farmers now have a greater dependence on agricultural support.

"These figures illustrate the importance of support payments in sustaining the industry and underpinning its competitive trading position."

Mr Ferguson said a profitable agriculture industry is key to providing a healthy economy, generational renewal and a better environment.

"As we look to the future, this is a once in a generation chance for the local government to develop a NI specific agricultural policy.

"One that drives integration of profitable food production, maintaining our world-leading environment and welfare standards, and assuring farmers receive a sustainable farm income for the work they do."

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said farmers should be properly rewarded for the high quality produce they provide.

Mr Poots said: "It is disappointing but not surprising that the total income from farming figure is well down, given that poor farm prices have made 2019 a difficult year for farmers.

"Our farming community are at the very heart of the excellent local food we produce - which enhances our economy, supports tourism and contributes to the sustainability of both the agri-food sector and the environment. Farmers work extremely hard and maintain very high standards.

"At the moment, they are not being fully rewarded for that effort and this is something that needs to change. To this end I will be writing to the main processors and the supermarkets asking how they can help farm businesses to be more sustainable."

Fall in milk prices, to 27.1p a litre, while the volume of raw milk produced rose to 2.4bn litres

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