Farmers in the North should prepare for a ‘world without direct subsidies’

Farmers in Northern Ireland may well have to prepare for a life without direct agricultural support subsidies according to James Trotman, agribusiness manager with Barclays’ Bank.

This is one of the options that we could be looking at post-2020, he said.

“So farmers must stress-test their businesses in preparation for such a scenario. This means looking at ways of improving efficiency levels and driving down costs.”

Trotman also said that, with interest rates at historically low levels, now was a good time for farmers to borrow money.

“Fixed interest deals on finance for up to 10 years are currently available. But the driver for all farming businesses is to become more efficient,” he added.

Trotman pointed out that producers must always think in terms of the margins they generate, rather than yields.

Having a firm knowledge of production costs is also crucially important and the same principle holds where cash flows are concerned.

Commenting on the current state of the world’s commodity markets, Trotman said that a weak Sterling is helping to boost food exports from the UK.

“It is also helping to make imports relatively more expensive. Where dairy is concerned, the prospects look relatively bright over the coming months.

“Rising oil prices are ensuring that demand for dairy products is increasing in places like Nigeria and the Gulf states. There is now a confirmed link between international oil and dairy markets.

“The continuing rise of the middle classes in countries like China should also help to boost exports from regions such as Northern Ireland.”

But Trotman did admit that Brexit will bring about a fair degree of uncertainty for the various agri-food sectors in Northern Ireland.

“And it may take a number of years for this state of affairs to settle down,” he added.

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