Northern Irish farms face 23% drop in income

Average farm incomes in Northern Ireland are projected to fall by 23% in 2018-19, in line with a drop in Total Income from Farming (TIFF) because of higher feed and machinery costs.

Provisional figures suggest that the total income generated from farming activities fell by more than £100m last year – from £467m in 2017 to £360m in 2018.

Total output for the year actually grew by 1%, but feed costs rose by 13% to £867m in 2018, with feed accounting for 55% of all input costs.

See also: Poor weather and high costs hit Scottish farm incomes

Total machinery expenses also increased by 5% to £156m, after a 10% increase in the cost of fuel and oils.

Farm business incomes

According to the Department for the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Daera), average farm business income is now projected to fall from £33,870 in 2017-18 to £26,030 in 2018-19.

Only cereal farms are likely to see a rise in income compared with the previous year, because of higher grain and straw prices.

Pig farms are projected to see a 51% fall, hit by the double blow of higher feed costs and lower pig prices.

Average farm business income by type of farm

Farm type 2017-18 2018-19 (forecast) Change
Cereals £26,980 £36,351 35%
Dairy £68,148 £51,679 -24%
Cattle & Sheep (LFA) £17,725 £14,523 -18%
Cattle & sheep (lowland) £16,637 £13,377 -20%
Pigs £86,188 £42,525 -51%
Mixed £44,914 £32,872 -27%
All types £33,870 £26,030 -23%

‘No surprise’

The Ulster Farmers Union said the figures were disappointing but not a surprise, and highlighted farmers’ dependence on direct support payments.

“Look behind these and of the £360m total income, £286m was made up of direct support from Brussels through the CAP,” said UFU president Ivor Ferguson.

“That is why decisions on how this will be replaced after Brexit cannot be allowed to drift even further.” 

The union said it was particularly concerned about the projected plunge in incomes in both hill and lowland beef and sheep production.

“This is a threat to the very backbone of agriculture,” it said. “If farmers are unable to cover rising input costs its future is in doubt. That would be a massive blow to the industry.”

Key figures from the Northern Ireland TIFF statistics

  • The dairy sector generates the most income at £680m.
  • Cattle output was 1% higher at £467m in 2018 because of higher farmgate prices and a rise in the number of animals slaughtered.
  • Fewer sheep were slaughtered in 2018, but a 7% increase in the producer price meant the value of output rose by 8% to £78m.
  • The poultry sector contributed £281m and the egg sector £107m to gross output.
  • Increases in the price of barley, wheat and oats saw the total value of cereal crops rise to £66m.
  • A difficult year for potatoes saw the value of output drop by 9% to £21m.