FARM INCOMES in Northern Ireland slumped in 2019, adding fresh impetus to a campaign for Stormont to legislate for guaranteed farm gate pricing.

The first provisional estimate for 2019 NI farm incomes has indicated that the ‘Total Income from Farming’ figure fell by 25%, from £386million in 2018 to £290million in 2019.

NI Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots commented: “It is disappointing but not surprising that the total income from farming figure is well down given that poor farm prices have made 2019 a difficult year for farmers.

“Our farming community are at the very heart of the excellent local food we produce – which enhances our economy, supports tourism and contributes to the sustainability of both the agri-food sector and the environment. Farmers work extremely hard and maintain very high standards.

“At the moment, they are not being fully rewarded for that effort and this is something that needs to change," said Mr Poots "To this end I will be writing to the main processors and the supermarkets asking how they can help farm businesses to be more sustainable.

“Farm level estimates show that almost all farm types have suffered, with the situation for cattle and sheep farms having been particularly challenging. Poor prices on national and international markets over the past year have been the main factor behind this downturn. Fluctuating market conditions is not a new problem, but it remains a very difficult issue for farmers to address.”

Minister Poots concluded: “Going forward, I want to work with the farming community to ensure that its desire to improve productivity and become more resilient is fully supported. Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to develop a new policy framework for supporting sustainable agriculture which meets local needs and I am determined to make the best of that opportunity”

Farmers For Action described the latest NI farm incomes figures as 'a disgrace' and called on the newly resumed Stormont Assembly to legislate for fair farm gate prices.

"If corporate and co-op food processors think that the current supply of Northern Ireland produce is going to continue at this level facilitating their profit increases while NI farmers have just suffered yet another income cut of 26% in real terms over the last 12 months, they are in dreamland!" said FFA organiser William Taylor.

"How could the average farmer even talk to his bank – worse still does his bank even want to talk to him? Just how could any young farmers consider keeping a family on £24,679, as well as run a business, where an unexpected machinery breakdown could cots £12,000," asked Mr Taylor.

"We truly have reached the bottom especially when you consider that the Single Farm Payment hasn’t been updated for inflation in 20 years and is about to disappear next year with vague Westminster support thereafter. Northern Ireland Farm Groups are now in top gear, lobbying Northern Ireland politicians and committees in Stormont to have their 'oven-ready' legislation on farm gate pricing taken up as soon as possible."