Northern Ireland farm incomes plunge £10k in a year and Brexit is still to come
Farmers across Northern Ireland have seen their incomes plummet by almost £10,000 (€11,700) in a single year.
The total cash income, including subsidies, fell from an average of £42,784 (€50,135) in 2014/15 to £33,673 (€39,458) the following year, according to a report by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
The average farming business income fell too, from £25,094 to just £14,788.
But it wasn't all bad news, and, with subsidies taken into account, two of seven farm types actually saw their incomes increase - general cropping by more than £4,000 and cattle and sheep by £1,522.
When direct subsidies were not included, however, it was only pig farms which generated any money. All the others - cereals, general cropping, dairy, mixed farms as well as hill and lowland cattle and sheep farms - lost cash.
Direct payments - which cover a range of subsidies including the Basic Payment Scheme, formerly the Single Farm Payment, as well as the Areas of Natural Constraint payments, which used to be the Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowance - decreased by almost £500 per farm between 2014/15 and the following year, averaging £24,972 per farm.
Industry experts warn the financial situation for Northern Irish farmers could be drastically hit by Brexit if the right assurances aren't put in place before Britain leaves the EU.
"There is no question that farm business profitability remains the single most important issue facing farmers," said Ulster Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell. "Clearly the supply chain is not delivering proper returns for farmers, which is why direct support payments remain absolutely essential for farm incomes. In this Brexit era, and given the long term nature of farming, we need a commitment from the UK Government that they will support agriculture.