Falling prices are being blamed as the main contributor to a drop of £53m in farm incomes in Northern Ireland.
Provisional estimates from DARD yesterday revealed that the total income from farming decreased by 16 per cent (17 per cent in real terms) from £336 million in 2013 to £283 million in 2014.
The figures also show that the Single Farm Payment accounted for 87 per-cent of total income in 2014.
Total gross output for agriculture in Northern Ireland fell by 3 per cent in 2014 to £1.89 billion.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said all sectors in the industry had been affected by the reduction in incomes.
“Falling prices have been the major contributor to this downturn. Fluctuating markets is not a new problem, but it remains a very difficult issue for farmers to address,” she added.
“For me, it is one of the reasons why direct CAP payments are so important to the agricultural industry, as these funds provide a buffer against the effect of market volatility.”
The minister warned that farmers couldn’t rely on direct CAP payments to get through difficult times and had to continue to work to improve efficiency and competitiveness and help build resilience.
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall said that while the figures were not surprising, they highlight the challenging cash flow problems currently facing farmers across the Province.
He continued: “2014 was a tough year financially for farmers. In particular market volatility across all sectors meant farm gate prices were hit hard and this unpredictability has posed a serious challenge to managing business cash flows.
“Hardly any of our commodities have been spared, beef producers experienced an 8 per cent decrease in their prices throughout the year, while dairy and pig prices suffered as well.
“Also, farmers in the arable sector bore their share of the effects of market volatility with the total output value of field crops falling 19 per cent in 2014, largely due to the reduction in producer prices for barley and potatoes.”
Mr Marshall said a disappointing sterling to euro exchange rate only compounded the issue, with farmers losing a total of £20million from their 2014 Single Farm Payments.
“Despite this, it is clear from the figures that the Single Farm Payment continues to play a vital role in our farming industry, making up 87 per cent of our total farm income,” he added.