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Agriculture is one of Northern Ireland’s most important industries. Also as a whole, the agri-food industry turns over more than £4.5 billion every year, and supports one in eight jobs in the UK, making it a cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s economy and farmers play a key role in this.
Currently, there are over 29,000 farmers in Northern Ireland producing the wide variety of raw materials needed by processors and retailers to meet the demands of consumers. Farming in Northern Ireland is not just a job but it is a way of life and we are extremely proud of our family farming structure. Rural communities here are extremely close knit and farmers and farming families are at the heart of these communities.
When you compare Northern Ireland to the other UK regions, and in fact the rest Europe, we are definitely a region that punches above its weight when it comes to farming.
What we produce
Beef, sheep, and dairy would be the largest commodity sectors in Northern Ireland but we also have impressive pig, poultry, cereal, fruit, potato, and vegetable sectors.
Our farmers are continually striving to build on and improve their businesses, whether it is through things such as investment, animal health initiatives, efficiencies, and so on. We have many forward thinking, innovative and creative farmers who are at the forefront of their sectors when it comes to farming practices, technology, supplier relationships, and getting their products directly to consumers. Also, many of our farmers have invested in farm diversification projects, such as ice cream, apple juice and cider, farm shops, butcheries, open farms, and accommodation.
For more information about who’s farming and the types of farms in Northern Ireland is available from the DARD’s annual agriculture census https://www.dardni.gov.uk/articles/agricultural-census-northern-ireland
Profitability and market volatility remain the two biggest issues facing farmers at the moment. Over the last few years volatility in the prices paid to farmers for their produce has caused significant problems for the industry. Often, farmers see their profits squeezed by other partners in the supply chain and market volatility across sectors has wrecked havoc with farm gate prices.
Currently, 87% of Northern Ireland’s total farming incomes comes from the Single Farm Payment so clearly the supply chain is not delivering profitability for primary producers. In fact in 2015 the plunge in incomes was so great that farm incomes were £53 million below what was received in Common Agricultural Policy payments. This is not a sustainable situation and processors and retailers need to think longer-term and recognise we need a single integrated supply chain where all partners are profitable, including farmers. Otherwise they may be gambling with the future of the entire industry.
For more information about farm incomes visit https://www.dardni.gov.uk/publications/ni-agricultural-incomes-2015
The future of farming in Northern Ireland
Farmers recognise the opportunities for the wider industry and are keen to see them capitalised on. The global population continues to rise and there are new and potentially very lucrative markets emerging, such as China. Already our neighbours to the South and across the water are charging ahead with their plans and farmers do not want to see Northern Ireland left behind. The NI Agri-Food Strategy Board has put forward a number of recommendations, which if delivered, would help to grow and develop our industry.
There are a number of significant challenges facing the industry, not least the new CAP, but there is also an appetite amongst the farming community for growth and development, while still protecting our family farming structures. A good starting point to see these opportunities realised is the commitment from our supply chain partners, especially retailers and processors, to a single integrated supply chain where all partners are profitable, including farmers. Ultimately, this would stand us all in good stead as it would strengthen and ensure the sustainability and viability of our agri-food industry as a whole.
UFU Member, Beef and Sheep farmer from Aughnacloy