Increase in incomes welcome, however challenges remain

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed an increase in farm incomes for 2017.

Provisional figures released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) indicate that the ‘Total Income from Farming’ (TIFF) in Northern Ireland rose by 87% (82% in real terms) from £253 million in 2016 to £473 million in 2017.

Total Gross Output for agriculture in Northern Ireland was 17% higher at £2.09 billion in 2017. There was a 21% increase in the value of output from the livestock sector, while field crops rose by 14% and horticulture was 4% higher. These figures are for the calendar year and therefore they represent the outturn across two harvest years.

Dairying remains the largest contributor to the total value of Gross Output at £662 million in 2017; a rise of 46%. The annual average farmgate milk price rose by 42% in 2017 to 28.7 pence per litre while the volume of raw milk produced in Northern Ireland increased by 4% to 2.3 billion litres.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell, welcomed the figures but remained cautious.

“The Ulster Farmers’ Union welcomes the increase in farm incomes generally, but farmers continue to face tough times across many enterprises,” he said.

“This increase was due to a combination of increased output and a more favourable sterling/euro exchange rate. This increased CAP payments by five per cent and the figures underline the continued importance of this direct financial support. This made up over 60 per cent of farm incomes. It must also be remembered that input costs were up by eight per cent and are continuing to rise.”

Mr Bell said the UFU welcomed the improvement in farm incomes but stressed that percentages had to be seen as an improvement from a very low base. He also stressed that in 2017, arable and cattle and sheep farmers in particular had faced the fallout from weather related costs and reduced agri-environment scheme payments.

“While we welcome the much-needed improvement, there is still considerable uncertainty around markets and support arrangements after Brexit. It is essential we get clarity on these at the earliest opportunity, particularly in relation to a possible transitional period with the EU.

“It is crucial that we use this welcome upturn in fortunes to plan now for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” said Mr Bell.