Membership of TB eradication partnership almost complete
The partnership is to be the next step in driving forward the fight against bovine tuberculosis, with the aim of eradicating the disease in Northern Ireland.

Five people have been appointed to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ TB eradication partnership (TBEP).

The partnership is to be the next step in driving forward the fight against bovine tuberculosis, with the aim of eradicating the disease in Northern Ireland.

The TBEP will comprise a chair, and six members. DAERA permanent secretary Dr Denis McMahon announced at the Balmoral Show that a chair and four members have been appointed to the TBEP.

A statement from DAERA said that they were unable to appoint someone from an environmental/conservation or a food-processing background and that DAERA will discuss with TBEP how these two positions are filled.

A key TB Strategic Partnership Group recommendation was for the establishment of a new partnership structure to provide advice and fresh thinking

Sean Hogan from Co Down has been appointed as the chair of the TBEP. He was previously chair of Northern Ireland Water and he was the first chair of Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

Previously, he was also the chair of the TB Strategic Partnership Group and oversaw the publication of the TB Eradication Strategy. Currently, he is the chair of Newry Credit Union and a non-executive director of Ervia Group, Dublin.

From the veterinary sector, Tyrone’s Seamus O’Kane has been appointed to the TBEP and brings 46 years’ experience in a mixed veterinary practice with him. He is a past president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and the Association of Veterinary Surgeons in Northern Ireland.

Dr Sam Strain is also named on the partnership. From Co Armagh, Dr Strain has been head of Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute TB Immunology Research Group and head of the bovine TB Culture Laboratory in Northern Ireland.

Currently, he is chief executive of Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI).

David Rea, a dairy and beef farmer from Co Down, also joins the partnership. He is a member of the UFU and the Association of Veterinary Surgeons in Northern Ireland. The other farmer in the group is Adrian Patterson, a mixed livestock farmer from Co Down with 16 years’ experience breeding pedigree stock. He has also extensive experience in the private sector at a senior level dealing with major organisational change.

Challenge

Speaking at the DAERA breakfast event at the 150th Balmoral Show, permanent secretary Denis McMahon officially announced the new initiative and introduced the members of the new partnership.

“We recognise the challenge that faces all of us with the high rate of TB incidence. It is the source of significant stress for our farming families and has the potential to inflict serious damage on the wider agri-food industry and its ability to trade on a global scale.

“While we have taken a number of measures to address the issue, we want to keep moving forward with our approach.

“A key TB Strategic Partnership Group recommendation was for the establishment of a new partnership structure to provide advice and fresh thinking.

“TBEP will bring together individuals with knowledge and practical experience who will for the first time have a major role in shaping the TB programme at both a policy and ground level.

“Farmers will be involved at every level having an input to how the TB programme operates and bringing their experience to the problem.”

The sector

Dr McMahon touched on a number of other issues in his speech, including the importance of the agri-food sector, which generates an estimated £4.4bn income and employs over 22,000, and its role in protecting our environment.

“The success of the agri-food sector impacts not only on farmers, fishermen and their families, but also on the wider rural community, sustaining jobs and businesses across rural areas, and indeed making a major contribution to the economy, our natural environment and our way of life.

"A sustainable and profitable farm base lies at the heart of the food supply chain. After a few years of very difficult market conditions, there was a welcome upturn in farm prices during 2017.

“However, our agri-food sector must be both profitable and sustainable and the way forward is shared practice and collaborative working with the industry, and I am pleased to see this already in action.

“The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has resulted in an implementation plan with 90 actions that should deliver increased levels of compliance and improved sustainable farming practices on farms throughout Northern Ireland.”

Brexit

Looking forward, Dr McMahon went on to address the changes that Brexit will bring.

A sustainable and profitable farm base lies at the heart of the food supply chain.

He said: “DAERA is working at pace with the aim of ensuring Northern Ireland is properly equipped to get the best deal for our industry.

"Engagement has been central to our approach at all levels. We continue to work extensively with our stakeholder groups on a programme of work to ensure that the issues, risks and opportunities are fully understood and explored. And we are working closely with key stakeholders in developing shared thinking on a future agricultural policy, environmental principles as well as a long-term strategy for our rural society.

“By working together, as one industry, we can achieve a thriving economy, a healthy environment and rural communities where people can live, work and grow.”

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NI dairy farms make progress in clearing debt
Danske Bank is expecting debt levels on Northern Ireland dairy farms to continue to reduce.

Dairy farms in Northern Ireland (NI) have continued to make progress in repaying debt, Danske Bank’s head of agribusiness Rodney Brown has said.

Speaking to reporters in Belfast on Thursday, Brown said that the recovery in milk prices over the past two years has allowed some dairy farmers to clear debts completely.

“There are still a few that struggle, but those numbers are in their tens rather than anything else,” he said.

“If fundamentally it’s a good business behind it and it's properly managed, we will work with them with restructuring. If the fundamentals of the business aren’t right, tinkering around the edges will not address the issues,” Brown said.

Borrowed sector

Dairying is the most borrowed sector in NI farming.

Extended overdrafts and interest-only loan repayments were required by many in the sector when milk prices were on the floor.

The most recent figures from DAERA show that the average debt on borrowed dairy farms in NI stood at £109,515 in 2016/17.

“We would expect the trend to be definitely down this year… The expectation is that debt will be further reduced as we go forward,” Brown maintained.

Volatility

During his presentation, Brown said that extra cash available this year is allowing dairy farmers to catch up on investments that were sidelined when finances were tight.

However, he warned that volatility will continue to be a factor in the future.

“It’s about managing your debt, paying it down whenever the cash is there,” Brown told reporters.

Borrowings in other sectors are significantly lower than dairying and 43% of all farms in NI were carrying no debt at all during 2016/17.

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Egerton runner-up in BGS final
Fermanagh suckler farmer, John Egerton, has finished runner up in the grassland farmer of the year competition run by the British Grassland Society.

Fermanagh beef and sheep farmer John Egerton has finished runner-up in the British Grassland Society’s (BGS) grassland farm of the year competition.

Having been awarded the grassland farmer of the year title from the Ulster Grassland Society back in January, John was put forward as the sole representative from NI.

Out of the 11 farmers entered in the final, the judges whittled the applicants down to the final three farms, with John up against dairy farmers from England and Wales. The three finalists received a visit from the judging panel in August.

The eventual winner was Richard Rogers from Angelsey, who milks 350 cows on 90ha in a spring-calving system.

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Dairy commodities facing price pressure
Dairy markets remain under pressure, which has seen a fall in the latest milk price indicator.

The latest milk price indicator (MPI) from the Ulster Farmers Union has fallen 0.58p to 27.99p/l. Allowing for a deduction of approximately 2p/l to cover a processor margin and transport costs, it would bring the MPI closer to an approximate farmgate price of 26p/l.

The reduced MPI is reflective of the latest downward trend in dairy commodities markets with the GDT and Dutch Dairy Board auctions facing price pressure.

This week’s GDT auction recorded a small price index drop of 0.3% to US $2,885/t. It is the fifth auction in a row to record a negative outcome. The index price has fallen by 15% since June.

Allowing for exchange rates, the latest index would convert to a milk price of approximately 28p/l before processing costs.

While butter rose 2.4% and skim milk powder was unchanged, whole milk powder and cheddar prices fell.

Industry analysts point to increased production levels in Europe, and a strong start to the production year in New Zealand, as being key factors in reducing the demand for dairy commodities.

Meanwhile, the council of EU agricultural ministers announced earlier this week that there will be no fixed price intervention scheme for skim milk powder during 2019.

Intervention had been set at €1,698/t and last used in 2017 as a method of removing a surplus of milk powder from the market. However, there is little appetite from the EU for another intervention scheme.

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