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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. 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. According to DAERA the ‘Total Income from Farming’ (TIFF) in Northern Ireland rose by 22% in 2016 (21% in real terms) to £244million from £199million in 2015. This was however £32 million below what was received in Common Agricultural Policy payments for that year and still only equates to an average individual farm business income of £18,943. This means that farmers invested in their businesses and worked all year for less than they would have had for pocketing the CAP payment and doing nothing else. For more information about farm incomes visit https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/statistical-press-release-northern-ireland-agricultural-incomes-2016
The future of farming in Northern Ireland
With Brexit at the fore for everyone, the UFU has urged the prime minister and government officials to get it right for agriculture. The agriculture industry has bold and ambitious plans for the next twenty years, and these must play a key part as the government enters Brexit discussions.
The UFU has also recently underlined the impact farming has on the wider economy, which gains £7.40 for every pound spent by a farmer. Politicans, particularly at Westminister, need to take food and food security more seriously. The UFU has created a working document on its view of agri policy post brexit and in June and July of 2017 aim to engage with the farmers on the ground to ensure their views and concerns are represented at the hightest level. You can access the UFUs full discussion paper here: https://www.ufuni.org/news/have-your-say-on-future-domestic-agriculture-policy-post-brexit
UFU Member, Beef and Sheep farmer from Aughnacloy