UFU arable and horticulture update

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
​Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) seeds and cereals policy chair Christopher Gill, hosted the DAERA Minister Andrew Muir for a farm walk at Caladan Estate, County Tyrone.

A working lunch and round table discussions chaired by UFU deputy president William Irvine followed. This included input from all UFU arable and horticulture chairs, David Johnson (Armagh Bramley), Christopher Gill (cereals), Trevor Gabbie (field vegetables) and David McElrea (potatoes). The UFU chairs discussed a range of challenges and opportunities for the respective sectors moving forward. The Minister gave a commitment for a follow up meeting early summer to further explore the future of arable and horticulture production locally.

The UFU continues to monitor the ongoing wet weather implications from last autumn, presently this is now causing concern resulting in increased financial and emotional pressure on farms. All sectors are suffering but UFU cereal, vegetable, top fruit and potato growers now struggle to get crops planted, established and managed as a result of the prolonged wet weather. Growers across the province are impacted by the hand mother nature has imposed and all are finding spring 2024 troublesome. UFU industry intelligence suggests 50-75% of winter crops got drilled, however, now increasing uncertainty is emerging regarding the percentage of crop that may need to be redrilled due to poor germination coupled with a limited window to apply fertiliser to encourage crop growth.

The UFU leadership, policy officer, chairs and committees do recognise no comfort comes from knowing growers all across the UK and Ireland are impacted equally. The stark reality of economic analysis of yields and prices are an unknown compounded by many other countries also facing difficult growing conditions. It is feared that late spring bean planting beyond mid-April will also result in late harvesting and add to grower frustrations and the additional cost on wear and tear on machinery. CAFRE staff are available across arable and horticulture crops to help growers with management advice in this evolving prolonged wet weather situation.

DAERA Minister Andrew Muir pictured with UFU deputy president William Irvine and UFU policy chairs David McElrea (potatoes), Christopher Gill (seeds and cereals), Trevor Gabbie (vegetables) and David Johnson (fruit). (Pic: UFU)DAERA Minister Andrew Muir pictured with UFU deputy president William Irvine and UFU policy chairs David McElrea (potatoes), Christopher Gill (seeds and cereals), Trevor Gabbie (vegetables) and David Johnson (fruit). (Pic: UFU)
DAERA Minister Andrew Muir pictured with UFU deputy president William Irvine and UFU policy chairs David McElrea (potatoes), Christopher Gill (seeds and cereals), Trevor Gabbie (vegetables) and David Johnson (fruit). (Pic: UFU)

UFU seeds and cereals chair Christopher Gill is mindful that the industry is being challenged but is confident growers are resilient, resourceful, knowledgeable, and professional with experience from past weather events signaling growers have a great ability to play catch-up when the weather improves.

UFU president David Brown met recently with potato growers affected by flash flooding. The UFU president also joined the growers at a constituency meeting, urging Minister Muir and DAERA to support the affected potato growers. UFU potato chairman David McElrea, vice chair James Wray, UFU deputy president John McLenaghan and senior policy officer for arable and horticulture, met recently with DAERA officials to explore longer term support desperately needed for the NI potato industry. This was a positive meeting and discussions are on-going with plans in place for a follow up meeting.

Local vegetable growers are trying to harvest crop in the ground, the weather has made it almost impossible to get into fields with machinery and growers have had to revert to manual harvesting for leeks, turnips, parsnips and carrots to meet orders adding to cost of production. Vegetable planting is now well behind schedule and earlier crops are looking stressed. The local vegetable growers await a window of improved weather to resume planting to meet retail supply demand for local seasonal produce.

UFU vegetable chair Trevor Gabbie is hopeful weather will take up and recognises planting is at least three weeks behind schedule and acknowledges some regions in the UK are equally as bad as are also neighbouring growers in ROI.

The DAERA Minister along with CAFRE and DAERA officials met and discussed key challenges and opportunities for arable and horticulture growers with UFU representatives during the farm walk at Caladan Estate, County Tyrone. (Pic: UFU)The DAERA Minister along with CAFRE and DAERA officials met and discussed key challenges and opportunities for arable and horticulture growers with UFU representatives during the farm walk at Caladan Estate, County Tyrone. (Pic: UFU)
The DAERA Minister along with CAFRE and DAERA officials met and discussed key challenges and opportunities for arable and horticulture growers with UFU representatives during the farm walk at Caladan Estate, County Tyrone. (Pic: UFU)

Top fruit Armagh Bramley apple orchard owners are also impacted with some orchards under water hindering the important application of much needed scab control agronomy to protect the potential quality of the crop at harvest.

The UFU continue to monitor the situation across arable and horticulture and reiterate the need for banks and wider supply chain partners to be understanding and work with growers during this difficult time. The UFU will continue to review the situation with NFU, NFUS and IFA representatives.