Northern Ireland’s farming industry has seen its total income rise by £173m (€250.2m) over the past year, British government figures revealed today.
The 7% increase was welcomed by Northern Ireland Office Agriculture Minister Ian Pearson but Ulster Farmers Union chief Campbell Tweed expressed concern at the average net farm income at around £8,500 (€12,300) per year.
According to the latest provisional figures from the NIO Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, there was a 9% increase over the past year in the output value of cattle.
Increases were also reported in the output values of milk, sheep, poultry and cereals, as prices rose and subsidies increased.
Cash income, which is the difference between cash receipts and expenses, was also expected to average £28,000 (€40,500) per farm by March this year – an increase of just over £4,000 (€5,800).
NIO Agriculture Minister Ian Pearson welcomed the statistics, noting there had been an increase in the total income for the second year running.
“The improved income figures reflect the efforts of farmers to improve business performance as well as the higher process for many agricultural products in 2004,” he said.
“The government is playing its part through a range of initiatives.
“However there is more that can be done and we are working with the industry to assist it to adjust to the changes which CAP reform and the introduction of decoupling will bring.”
Ulster Farmers Union president Campbell Tweed said the recovery in farm incomes was modest but warned farmers were facing problems trying to reinvest in their businesses as they coped with new EU environmental regulations.
“Proposed new EU rules could require many farmers to make significant capital investments in their premises, simply to stay within the rules,” he said.
“With an average net farm income of only £8,500 (€12,300) per annum, the government must recognise that farmers shouldn’t be forced into an impossible position of being required to make investments which they can’t simply afford.”
The UFU chief said with the complete overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy farmers were now basing their production decisions solely on market demands.
“The distorting influence of the old subsidy system has gone,” he said.
“This should enhance farm businesses opportunities to find a viable future but only if other sections of the food chain deliver a fair price.”