2019: The year that was for Northern Ireland farming

2019 hasn’t been particularly kind to our farmers in the North, with many ending the year feeling no better off, if not worse, than where they started, AgriLand journalist Rachel Martin writes:

Ending a year – worse, a decade – like this has left morale on the floor at a time when it’s most needed ahead of tumultuous change.

2020 is already shaping up to be the start of what could be a defining decade for Northern Ireland agriculture – let’s just hope it’s the start of another ‘Roaring ’20s’.

2019 review

Looking back on the year that was I’ve trawled through the AgriLand archives to bring you a handful of the biggest stories of the year:

It all started off so promising. In February, the Ulster Farmers’ Union announced it had smashed its £100,000 target for the air ambulance.

The union set itself the ambitious target of raising £1,000 for each of its 100 years, but when the final amount was tallied, the figure totalled a phenomenal £200,000. A massive well done to everyone who baked, climbed mountains or sold calendars for the cause. Click here for the full story

lakeland merger
L-R: Michael Hanley, Group CEO; Alan McCay, vice-chairman; Colin Kelso, vice-chairman; and Alo Duffy, chairman of Lakeland Dairies. Image source: Colm Mahady, Fennells

Next up is the story that really dominated the latter half of 2018 and first half of 2019. Crossborder dairy firm Lakeland completed its merger with LacPatrick in April.

Lakeland took on the firm’s €28 million debt as part of the deal and a new entity – Lakeland Dairies Co-operative Society – was formed on April 1. Click here for the full story

In April, Northern Ireland’s largest employer, Moy Park, announced it would partially close its Antrim plant.

The firm put the blame on “challenging market conditions”, with the view that to will re-open the line in January 2020. The union described the news as “another blow” to producers. Click here for the full story

Dale Farm

Later the same month Dale Farm gave up its Fivemiletown lease. The historic creamery was founded in 1898 and added cheese production in 1972. The firm was at one point the only speciality cheese maker in Northern Ireland.

Click here for the full story

In May, video footage of ‘quarrelling’ showgoers filmed in the Balmoral Show beer tent went viral.

The video was viewed 1.7 million times within just a few days. If you missed it, you can check it out here for yourself.

Later the same month, the department admitted that a fence post shortage had caused delays to the latest round of the Environmental Farming Scheme as farmers rushed to finish work ahead of the scheme’s June 1 deadline. Click here for the full story

Agriculture farm death authorities

On the farm safety front, June saw a very lucky escape for a Fermanagh farmer. The man in his 70s, who was rescued by another man in his 40s, lost consciousness in a slurry accident.

However, sadly, in November, things didn’t end so well – we had our first and only farm death of the year when a 14-year-old girl was killed on a farm in Newry.

2019 was the year of the pig in more than just the Chinese Zodiac. In July, the chief vet confirmed that African Swine Fever had reached the UK for the first time.

Traces of the disease were detected in airport contraband in Northern Ireland but intervention from department officials at the portal prevented it from going any further. Click here for the full story

In October, a meeting held in response to the beef protests in the Republic of Ireland was attended by almost 200 farmers.

They stopped short of choosing to protest here in Northern Ireland but decided to support their peers in the Republic. Click here for the full story

Image source: Cliff Donaldson

Finally, in November, the UFU hosted the first ever Women in Ag event in Northern Ireland.

Deputy president Victor Chestnutt used the occasion to urge the Government urged to match Scots funding here in NI

Also Read: Government urged to march Scots women in ag funding in NI