By Robert Harris

BIG differences in farm incomes between regions and sectors are highlighted in the latest ministry figures published this week.

But all farms, apart from general cropping enterprises, have recorded further falls in net farm incomes to the year ending February 1999, according to provisional figures in the report, Farm Incomes in the United Kingdom.

Dairying

Substantial falls in milk prices outstripped savings made on feed. Ministry indices suggest English dairy farmers have suffered a 39% fall in net farm income to £12,000.

  • Welsh dairy units have faired better, though estimated incomes have still fallen by almost one-third to £15,700.
  • Earnings on Northern Irish dairy farms fell just 13%, but from a lower base, leaving an average net farm income of just £7000.

  • Scotland has been hardest hit, with dairy farmers earning nothing at all this year compared with £14,000 last year. More milk goes through co-ops than south of the border, and these have been unable to match many of the direct buyers on price this year.
Cereals

Cereal farmers have been caught by weak world prices. Again, Scotland took the brunt with net earnings dropping to an average loss of about £6000, compared with last years small £600 profit.

“It was a very difficult harvest, and growers suffered lower yields across the board,” says Sandy Ramsay of the SACs rural business unit. High drying charges and costly deductions also hit profits.

English growers suffered a 27% fall to average £10,568, despite lower fertiliser and pesticide costs.

Livestock

Many livestock farms have made losses this year, especially in the lowlands, as cattle and sheep prices fell.

  • Welsh producers have, on average, made a negative net farm income of £750 and their English counterparts lost £1200.
  • Northern Irish producers, who lost £4000 last year, are now deeper in the red.
Uplands

Upland producers fared slightly better, partly due to enhanced HLCA rates announced last November.

  • English LFA producers achieved net earnings of about £10,200 this year, down 15%.
  • Welsh and Scottish farms made about half to a third of that level, respectively.

General cropping farms are the only bright spot. Potato prices, which have been typically double last years values, helped lift net farm income by 60%, reversing last years decline. In England, estimated net farm income rose to £28,300, and to £8700 in Scotland.