Visitors to the 2024 Balmoral Show might have enjoyed four days of excellent weather, but the wet spring has not been easily forgotten by NI farmers.

A joint survey undertaken by the Irish Farmers Journal and the Ulster Farmers’ Union at the annual event shows that just 7% of respondents said the wet weather and late spring had no impact on their farms.

A total of 43% said the bad weather had a slightly negative affect on their business, while 50% said the impact was “very negative”.

The results were consistent across the various sectors, although those who indicated that arable was their main farming enterprise were the most negative about the spring weather.

At the other end, it is of no surprise that farmers with pig and poultry enterprises were less impacted.

Tough spring

When asked about the impact of the tough spring on their mental health, 18% of all respondents said they are not affected, with 61% indicating it “affects me sometimes”.

Just over one in five farmers admitted that the wet spring had significantly impacted their mental health.

The survey was completed by 250 NI farmers, with nearly two-thirds working full-time on the farm. A further 28% said they farmed part-time, with the remaining 8% describing their business as a “hobby farm”.

Dairy farmers highlight income hit

Most NI farmers saw their businesses perform relatively well over the last financial year, despite an array of challenges.

Over half of respondents said their incomes were similar to previous years, while 11% said their incomes were up. That left just over one-third of farmers who indicated business performance was down on previous years.

A significant number of these are dairy farmers, with 55% of responses from the sector pointing to an income hit in the last financial year.

Concern at direction of travel for payments

The general view of farmers at the Balmoral Show is that changes proposed by DAERA to farm support will have a negative impact on their businesses.

When asked how they view the proposals, just 17% think it will be positive for their farm.

Within the sectors, those who listed beef as their main enterprise were the most positive, presumably on the back of the new beef carbon reduction scheme which started in 2024 and a new suckler cow scheme, due to start in 2025.

However, with various conditions to be met, it was still a fairly lukewarm response, with just 23% of beef farmers welcoming the changes.

Across all respondents, 18% think the changes will have little impact and a further 24% said they did not know, leaving 42% suggesting the impact will be negative.

With arable farmers seeing their payments cut 9% in 2024 and 17% in 2025 to fund new beef schemes, it is no surprise that all tillage respondents were negative about the current direction of travel.

Conditions for payments

Our survey also asked farmers whether they had concerns about the number of new conditions (such as carbon audits or nutrient management plans) that might potentially be attached to new farm payments.

Just 10% of respondents said they have no concerns, with nearly half of all farmers saying they were “very concerned”.

Government stifling investment on farms

Despite the bad spring, the mood at the Show was largely positive and that is reflected in our survey responses.

When asked where they see their farms in the next three years, 41% said they expect output to be similar to what it is now. While 23% do expect to be producing more, this is likely to be cancelled out by the 35% who expect to be producing less.

Our survey then asked farmers what they believe will be the biggest constraint on farmers in the future. While there was a fairly even spread of responses, “rules and regulations” came out on top, followed by “climate change” and “changes to agricultural support”.

Just 14% of farmers believe “tighter planning restrictions” will be the biggest constraint, despite the current block on farm planning due to concerns around ammonia emissions. Most of the farmers who cited planning as an issue listed dairy as their main enterprise.

Confidence to invest

In terms of what could be done to give farmers the confidence to invest in their businesses going forward, many of the changes fall to government to implement.

The most popular was that government would give a longer term commitment around farm support, followed by less rules and regulations, and action taken to stop markets being undermined by imports produced to lower standards than apply in the UK. Combined, these three issues accounted for 75% of responses.

Future career for young farmers

The final question in our survey asked whether respondents would encourage a young person to pursue a career in farming. Just under half said they would, with 32% unsure, while 22% responded negatively.

Across the main sectors, dairy farmers tended to be more positive and beef farmers less positive, when compared to the overall average.