Subsidies help farm incomes in Northern Ireland almost double to £473m
INCOMES at Northern Ireland's 10,300 farms almost doubled last year from £253 million to £473 million, according to official departmental figures.
But when a direct subsidy of a quarter of a billion pounds (£287m), much of it rooted in European aid, is removed, the increase is a paltry £27m year on year.
The headline rise was led by a recovery in milk prices, with the volatile dairy sector, the largest contributor to the total value of gross output at £662m, being up 46 per cent on a year earlier.
Yet despite the healthy-looking numbers, Ulster Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell remains cautious.
He said: “While we welcome the uplift in incomes, farmers continue to face tough times across many enterprises.
"The increase was due to a combination of increased output and a more favourable sterling/euro exchange rate.
"This increased CAP payments by five per cent, and the figures underline the continued importance of this direct financial support, which made up over 60 per cent of farm incomes.
"It must also be remembered that input costs were up by eight per cent and are continuing to rise, and the higher percentages have to be seen as an improvement from a very low base.”
He added: “While we welcome the much-needed improvement, there is still considerable uncertainty around markets and support arrangements after Brexit.
"It is essential we get clarity on these at the earliest opportunity, particularly in relation to a possible transitional period with the EU. It is crucial we use this welcome upturn in fortunes to plan now for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” Mr Bell said.
The so-called ‘Total Income from Farming' (TIFF) measurement represents the return on own labour, management input and own capital invested for all those with an entrepreneurial involvement in farming. It represents farm income measured at the sector level.
Total output for agriculture in Northern Ireland last year was up 17 per cent at £2.09 billion.
While dairying was the star-performing sector, the output value of cattle was 6 per cent higher at £460m, though the sheep sector decreased by 2 per cent to £73m.
There were increases in the values of output for all three intensive livestock sectors during 2017, with the pig sector increasing by 35 per cent to £163m, the egg sector up 5 per cent to £100m and the value of poultry output up 9 per cent to £275m.
Farm business income measured across all farm types is expected to increase from an average £21,928 in 2016/17 to £37,880 this year - an increase of £15,952 or 73 per cent per farm.