We're backing Northern Ireland farmers as Brexit looms: Ulster Bank
Ulster Bank has insisted it has not altered lending practices for farmers because of Brexit.
The bank, which is the title sponsor the Balmoral Show, said it was continuing to lend as usual despite the highs and lows of the ongoing withdrawal negotiations.
Ulster Bank's chief executive and head of agriculture spoke out yesterday at a breakfast meeting with representatives from the industry ahead of the annual show, which runs from May 15 to May 18.
Chief executive Richard Donnan said: "The agri-food sector is a crucial component of the Northern Ireland economy.
"We are strongly committed to continuing to support it through the funds we have available to lend and through the expertise of our team. That includes support for farmers and primary producers right through the supply chain, including some of our biggest and best-known food processors."
While admitting that the industry faced many challenges, Mr Donnan said he believed it could handle them.
"Our local agri-food companies have proven themselves to be adept at focusing on the things they can control, so that they are well positioned to capitalise on whatever opportunities also emerge," he explained.
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"That means continuing to generate great produce and products, increasing value and investing in R&D and innovation to improve productivity and distinctiveness."
Senior agriculture manager Cormac McKervey said Brexit had not impacted on lending practices so far.
"At a farmer level, we weren't going to change how we lent. Once we know what will happen, we'll react to it," he added.
"We wouldn't take a knee-jerk reaction to all news about Brexit, but if we remain aligned to the customs union or a variant, that would make sense because the EU is our closest partner and the wealthiest trading bloc on the planet."
Mr McKervey said that many farming sectors, including dairy and pigs, were performing well.
Pig producers had shown good management practices and had survived the impact of higher prices, he added.
Mr McKervey suggested an outbreak of swine fever in China would push up prices for pork products as people turned to the European market.
But he said poultry farmers had been badly affected by cuts to the renewable heat incentive subsidy, and some had decided to replace wood pellet boilers with gas heaters, which meant additional heavy costs.
Mr McKervey also stressed that farmers' appetite for land purchase was still strong, citing research by the Irish Farmers Journal which recorded a 4.4% increase in land prices, with the province breaking the £10,000 per acre barrier. "Brexit doesn't come into it (land)," he said.