Farmer Focus: Big decisions ahead if profits don’t improve

I really don’t like this time of year. Storms, dull, wet days and ground too soggy even to walk on. If farming was more profitable, I would spend January and February in the Alps!

But it isn’t, and time spent in the office simply confirms what I have suspected all along this year – that the farm is not making a good enough return for the amount of effort and investment put in.

Figures released recently for average net returns from farming in Northern Ireland in 2015 make grim reading.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

It transpires that if we had all simply met the minimum requirements of ‘active’ farming, produced nothing and just banked our single farm payment cheques, farmers here would have been £53 million better off.

This is a crazy and surely unsustainable state of affairs, not to mention the damage to the potential development of the industry.

It cannot be right that we are so dependent on this annual hand out, but without it most farms would go out of business in current circumstances.

Trouble is, I cannot see any simple answers. On the one hand farmers need to become more focussed on the market place and supply and demand.

On the other hand, I can’t see that agriculture would ever survive here without any support, given the demands placed on it by consumers, environmentalists and some misinformed, short sighted politicians. There has got to be a better way.

On my own farm, I will have to make some big decisions over the next nine months unless there is a significant improvement in returns.

The cost of renting land here seems to bear no resemblance to what it can potentially return in income. Maybe I would be better off farming a smaller area but doing it better.

Indeed, maybe we would all be better off doing that, reducing supply and driving up the price of our products to a more realistic level.

The options of doing nothing, protesting about prices or waiting for the government or the EU to bail us out are really not options at all.

Time to watch the Six Nations rugby – maybe that will cheer me up.

Robert Moore farms on the Molenan Estate in Northern Ireland, where his family have farmed for more than 200 years. He switched to arable production in the late 1990s, away from beef and sheep. He still has a small suckler herd on non-suitable arable land

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