Bank urges NI farmers to review the viability with 30% less support

Northern Ireland’s farmers need devolved government back in place and lobbying on their behalf to make sure the sector does not fall behind post-Brexit, Danske Bank’s new head of agri-business has warned.

Speaking at the bank’s annual agri-economic outlook for the northern section of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists, Rodney Brown explained that locally the sector is generally in good financial health, with a high percentage of farmers choosing to pay down debt.

Holding back investments

However, he also noted that farmers are going about their daily business with no clear picture emerging as to where they will be in 12 months’ time in terms of market access, exchange rates and support payments.

Brown explained this was holding back many farmers and agri-businesses from making large-scale investments.

He said: “The sector is generally in strong financial health, we have a lucrative domestic market and a growing demand for high-quality food products which should provide further growth opportunities for Northern Ireland’s farmers and food producers.

Danske Bank’s head of agri-business Rodney Brown; head of markets Brian Telford; and chief economist Conor Lambe; with northern chairman of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists Richard Halleron; and guild secretary Rachel Martin.

“However, the political vacuum at Stormont could be devastating for the industry as we need local Ministers in place to implement a tailored response to the new Agriculture Bill introduced by UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove last month.

Unless we have devolved government back in Stormont to deal with local agriculture issues, decisions affecting the future of farming in Northern Ireland will be dealt with from Westminster, and Northern Ireland farmers risk missing out.

He added: “The legislation is primarily concerned with achieving environmental sustainability, which is undoubtedly a good thing; but we can only have environmental sustainability if we have economic stability in the industry.

“Farmers are already dealing with a volatile market with peaks and troughs that are higher and quicker than seen previously, so the industry needs our political representatives to get behind them and support the common goal of a sustainable agri-food industry.”

Up to 30% less support

Brown said a large number of farmers are now looking to de-risk their businesses through hedging or debt reduction, and others are using the current good conditions to innovate and drive further efficiencies.

However, he said many still need to push ahead on issues such as land mobility and succession planning, particularly in light of likely changes in the support payments farmers currently receive from the EU.

We are encouraging our customers to review the viability of their businesses with 30% less support, to make decisions about where they want to be in five years and plan their route there.

“If your business is underperforming, you may need to look at other income streams and opportunities to diversify.

“We know our local farmers and producers are extremely resilient and Danske Bank is committed to supporting them as they strive to succeed.”