Farming families in the North suffered a £129 million slump in their livelihoods last year as farm incomes fell to £183 million (€240m) in 2015 according to new government figures today.
The statistics from the North's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) show that Total Income from Farming (Tiff) in Northern Ireland fell by 41 per cent in 2015 to £183 million from £312 million in 2014.
The Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said farmers had been “hit significantly hard by low prices” throughout the year and the total income from farming had fallen back to levels not seen for a decade in the North.
The Minister said while all sectors had struggled during 2015 it was particularly difficult for dairy and pig farmers.
According to Dard the total value of gross output for agriculture in Northern Ireland decreased by 9 per cent to £1.74billion in 2015.
The main factor behind the decrease was a 13 per cent drop in the value of output from livestock producers last year.
The statistics show that dairy farming continues to be the largest key contributor in sector - although its overall output also fell by 27 per cent to £480 million in 2015.
Milk prices have been a major issue for dairy farmers in the North this year which the latest Dard report acknowledges - the annual average farm-gate milk price fell by 28 per cent in 2015 to 21.2 pence per litre.
However the volume of raw milk produced in Northern Ireland rose by 3 per cent to 2.3 billion litres which marks a new record level of milk production.
The Ulster Farmers' Union, which represents farmers and growers, described the latest Dard figures as "grim".
UFU president, Ian Marshall, said the organisation was also deeply concerned that, as yet, there was no evidence that 2016 would deliver a dramatic improvement for the farming community in the North.
“The plunge in incomes was so great in 2015 that farm incomes were £53 million below what was received in Common Agricultural Policy payments. This meant farmers invested in their businesses and worked all year for less than they would have had for pocketing the CAP payment and doing nothing else.
“These grim income figures are a body blow for farming families - but they are also a body blow for the entire Northern Ireland economy. Almost £130 million was taken out of the rural economy. That is money that would have been spent locally, meaning towns and villages across Northern Ireland will have felt the impact of hard times hitting the farming community.” said Mr Marshall.