A case of steady as she goes for 2018

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Agriculture in Northern Ireland can look forward with a degree of confidence to 2018, according to Danske Bank’s head of agriculture Robert McCullough.

“Pig farmers are enjoying sustainable returns at the present time,” he said.

“And the same can be said for the dairy, beef and sheep sectors.”

Mr McCullough cited the continuing weakness of Sterling against the Euro as a contributory factor, leading to the upturn in most farmgate returns.

He is also aware of the predicted dip in milk prices that may well kick-in during the months ahead.

“Hopefully, we are talking about a controlled decline in prices and not a full-scale market crash, as we experienced back in 2015/16,” he said.

“At the present time, I am confident that dairy farmers will be able to effectively manage whatever price changes come their way in 2018.”

On the subject of market volatility, which has been a core challenge for the dairy sector over recent times, Mr McCullough said that farmers are becoming aware of its potential impact and are taking steps to manage their businesses accordingly.

“It’s apparent that farmers are now reviewing every investment decision they make, with a keen eye on the impact it will have on their businesses for the medium to long term.”

Mr McCullough welcomed the decision by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to push ahead with the second tranche of applications for Tier 1 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme.

“This measure allows farmers to invest in items of technology that will allow them improve the efficiency of their businesses.

“Danske Bank regards this as a wholly positive development. And I know that the other banks hold the same view on the matter.”

According to Mr McCullough, a hard Brexit would be the worst of all options for farming and food in Northern Ireland.

“Brexit still remains the great unknown,” he said.

“From a trading point of view we need to stick as closely as we can to the status quo. We also need to see the Executive and the other Stormont institutions up and running again as quickly as possible.”

The Danske Bank representative also highlighted the need for a close watching eye to be kept on the evolution of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) during the period ahead.

“The agreed transition period for Brexit may well bring the next reform of the CAP into play,” he added.

“Other priorities for agriculture moving forward are the need to get on top of the bovine TB problem.

“Dealing with ammonia emission levels from farms is another core challenge for the future.”