ABC councillor highlights struggles of farming families across the borough who are caught in 'perfect storm'

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Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough councillor, Tim McClelland, has highlighted the challenges being faced by farming families throughout the ABC area who are caught in a ‘perfect storm’.

The Lagan River representative raised the plight of farming families during the recent full council meeting.

Farming contributes over half a billion pounds to the economy within ABC Council, with 3,477 registered farming businesses within the borough employing almost 7,500 people.

Councillor McClelland, who is a farmer himself, said these farming businesses have been caught in “an almost perfect storm”.

Councillor Tim McClellandCouncillor Tim McClelland
Councillor Tim McClelland

“Factors leading to this storm have included year-on-year reductions in farm gate prices across dairy, grain and beef sectors,” he stated, “increasing interest rates, which rose on 14 consecutive months (from December 21) with the ‘headline rate’ moving from 0.1 % (December 2021) to 5.25 % during August 2023. For heavily borrowed businesses, increases of this magnitude are significant if not potentially crippling; and a prolonged period of bad weather that has seen record rainfall levels since summer 2023.”

“Lord Mayor, apart from a few good days last week, spring 2024 will go down as a late, wet poor spring for farming,” Cllr McClelland continued.

“As alluded to a few minutes ago, these factors, amongst others, have contributed to the perfect storm for farming families within our borough and, indeed, across Northern Ireland,” Councillor McClelland stated.

“Financial health within family farm business units is severely impacted at present. Farmers’ mental health is also at a low ebb.

“Farming can be a lonely occupation at the best of times, but given current circumstances the ‘on farm’ situation is much worse.

“Lord Mayor, Rural Support is a Northern Ireland wide organisation offering counselling and other practical support to farming families.

“A recent survey of more than 200 farmers found the top six issues concerning them were: rising costs; financial pressures; produce price volatility; changes to farm subsidies; animal disease (such as TB); and climate change legislation.

“An illustration of current difficulties would be the following statistic – during the last three months of 2023, calls from farming families to Rural Support increased by 40 per cent compared with the same period in 2022.”

Cllr McClelland outlined three proposals to ABC Lord Mayor, Alderman Margaret Tinsley.

These included: That council invites the incoming leadership team of Ulster Farmers’ Union to address full council as soon as practical; that Rural Support be invited to address full council as soon as practical; and, finally, that council write to DAERA Minister Andrew Muir asking what practical steps his department is taking to assist farming families at this difficult time.

He added: “Lord Mayor we, as a council, have an agriculture strategy, that’s welcome, that’s positive and that’s good.

“However, I believe now is a very opportune time for us to reach out to our farming families.

“We must say to our farmers, ‘we need you, we stand with you and what can we as a council do to help you through these current difficulties?’.”

In his closing remarks, Cllr McClelland appealed for support across the chamber in reaching out to farming families in the borough.