Belfast Telegraph

Farmers' fears rise as 600 leave land in one year

By Michael Drake
17 November 2004

Over 600 Northern Ireland farmers have gone out of business in the past year, according to Government census figures released today.

There are fears too that more could leave the land in the months ahead when the Common Agricultural Policy review measures are introduced early next year.

In future farmers will no longer be able to rely on a raft of EU subsidies to boost their incomes.

Instead they will receive a Single Farm Payment and the market place alone will dictate their fate.

Ulster Farmers Union spokesman Joe McDonald said: "We are not surprised by the number leaving the land up to now.

"But it will be interesting to see what the future holds.

"If farmers find the market place successful they will remain in the industry.

"But we fear if this is not the case they will leave it."

Final results of the June agricultural census, conducted by the Department of Agriculture, reveal the number of active farm businesses, at 27,614, was 667 fewer than in 2003 and reflects a decline of 2.4%.

During the past five years there has been an average downward trend in the number of farms of 2.3% per year against 1.8% over the past 10 years.

There was a much brighter picture emerging from the arable sector where farmers boosted their cereals acreage by 1% in the past year.

While the area of winter barley rose by 10%, that of spring barley fell by 5%.

There was no change in the area devoted to oats growing while that of wheat rose by 18%.

There was a dip of 6% in the area allocated to potato growing but there were significant increases for other field crops.

Cattle and sheep numbers remained unchanged but in the pigs sector there were 2% fewer animals and the breeding herd was down by 1%.

For the third year there was a large increase - 11% in total poultry numbers.

The laying flock was up by 3% and broilers by 17%.

Meanwhile, the labour force on farms fell by 2%.

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