27 February 1998

Hurt by strong £…

CURRENCY movements have hit UK farmers hard, but arable producers in Northern Ireland are suffering more than most.

Transport costs for imports from the UK mainland used to ensure a £10/t premium for grain grown in the province. Now the strong pound means Irish wheat is cheap, forcing grain to tumble 34% in two years.

"Currency rates are having more of an impact than anything else, including MacSharrys CAP reforms and the current plans for Agenda 2000," farmer John Gilliland told last weeks UAS conference.

His figures showed winter wheat had crashed from £134/t in November 1995 to £89/t last November. Winter barley plunged from £125/t to £84/t in the same time. "Thats a 34% cut – its a real crisis."

"Unless we get the currency sorted out we wont have an arable farming industry in Norther Ireland."

"With the strong pound today we get £88/t for wheat ex-farm, growers across the border in Ireland get I£106/t," he explained.

The Ulster Farmers Union, on which Mr Gilliland is chairman of the seeds and cereals committee, recently met Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam to discuss the issue. "We are hopeful our case is being looked at," said Mr Gilliland.

However, there is scope to source inputs at lower cost in Ireland. Agrochemicals and fertilisers are up to 20% cheaper than on the Northern Ireland market, which is itself cheaper than on the UK mainland.

due to the pressure from cheap imports, one local distributor noted.

One Eire distributor reputedly sold 40% of his turnover to Northern Ireland and beyond last year.