€100m wiped off the cattle trade leaves farms on brink


The ‘Beast from the East’ was a contributing factor to losses. Photo: PA
The ‘Beast from the East’ was a contributing factor to losses. Photo: PA
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The cattle industry lost €100m last year due to falling prices and a small drop in the volume of livestock processed.

The value fell from €2.36bn in 2017 to €2.26bn last year, figures show.

Farmers continue to count the cost of market uncertainty from Brexit, leaving some on the brink of leaving the industry.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures illustrate how exposed farm incomes are to the vagaries of the weather and market sentiment.

They show the operating surplus in agriculture dropped 16pc from €3.4bn in 2017 to €2.9bn in 2018.

It follows on the back of a difficult 2018, where farmers forked out an extra €357m on feed as they faced an expensive late spring, the 'Beast from the East' storm and the summer drought.

However, another key expense on Irish farms is fertiliser for which spending rose €69m to €582m.

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) warned that the time is now for Government action as the lack of certainty on future trade with the UK has caused market difficulties.

IFA president Joe Healy said there has been no improvement in the first few months of this year, and immediate political action is needed.

"The headline figure showing a decrease of 16pc was largely driven by a substantial hike of over €350m on feed," he said.

"A combination of the late, wet spring, Storm Emma and the summer drought added significantly to costs on farms during 2018 and affected the bottom line for farmers."

Overall, the figures show that spending on feeding animals increased by €356.5m or 27pc to €1.6bn, with a 20pc increase in the volume being purchased.

Farmers were forced to feed animals indoors for longer due to weather, while they were also hit later in the year, with drought affecting grass growth.

Pat McCormack, of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), said that farmers had suffered a €500m blow from the rise in inputs coupled with the €43m drop in milk production.

"The figures are catastrophic and show the cost of feed increasing by over €350m, and fertiliser by €70m. Those figures speak for themselves," he said.

"Brexit is now days away, and we still operate in the dark, with no certainty of what faces us.

"At the very least, the EU and our Government should publish their actual programmes as to how they intend to support farmers, whether it is a deal or no-deal Brexit."

He also said the farming sector was "completely exposed to Brexit".

For dairy farmers, milk output last year increased 4.5pc, but falling prices saw a slight drop in value of €43m to €2.54bn.

Pig farmers have warned that many are on the brink of going out of business as the value of pigmeat output fell by 11pc as producers found themselves in a loss-making situation.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said that in a hard Brexit, Ireland will seek major European Commission grant aid.

Irish Independent