Long term outlook positive for agri sector

Agri-business is vital to the Northern Ireland economy
Agri-business is vital to the Northern Ireland economy

A survey of agri-businesses across Northern Ireland has revealed that a majority of farmers are optimistic about the prospects for 2013 despite the current cashflow difficulties facing the industry.

Details of the Danske Bank survey, which found that 43.6 per cent of farmers are upbeat about outlook for this year, were revealed at the Danske Bank Agri Breakfast at Ravenhill, Belfast by the bank’s Head of Agricultural Relations, John Henning.

He said said that the results again demonstrate dthe resilience of local farmers.

“Agri-food is one of the few sectors that has performed well since the economic downturn, but local farmers are competing in a global industry, which exposes them to structural factors such as currency fluctuations and commodity prices. In the face of that, the recovery of confidence in one of our most important local industries is important.”

In the same survey, which was carried out at the RUAS Winter Fair in December, rising input costs were cited by almost three-quarters (74.8 per cent) of respondents as the single biggest challenge to the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland.

Mr Henning said: “Representatives of the agri-food sector need to constantly underline to political and economic stakeholders the important role that the sector plays in supporting employment in Northern Ireland: demonstrating that a thriving agri-food sector is vital to the economic health of rural communities and is necessary to underpin a sustained economic recovery in Northern Ireland.”

Speaking at the event, Angela McGowan, Danske Bank Chief Economist, said that despite the improving global outlook for 2013, conditions in Europe and the UK remain tough.

“Many local businesses will continue to face a challenging environment this year. Last year the strengthening of sterling combined with poor weather conditions meant that Northern Ireland’s agri sector faced both competitiveness and production pressures. Although in early 2013 we have seen sterling slip back to more competitive levels, the agri sector should still expect commodity prices – especially grains – to stay both high and volatile for the first half of the year due to depleted inventory levels.

“As a sector, agri-business is of vital importance to the Northern Ireland economy – and the long-term picture is generally positive. Global population growth will undoubtedly lead to greater demand pressures in the years ahead – creating an opportunity for those working in the sector. That high demand will continue to drive technological change and advancement and therefore we expect that the agri-business sector will continue to be an important source of innovation and enterprise in Northern Ireland.”