Northern Ireland

NI agricultural sector is performing strongly

bull at dungannon beef expo
Image caption NI breeders are reporting a strong export trade for cattle

The Northern Ireland economy may be struggling to regain traction but agriculture is one sector which is performing strongly.

Farmers and livestock breeders attending the Beef Expo event in Dungannon this week were in a confident mood, reflecting a surge in the market for beef cattle.

Not since before the BSE crisis have prospects looked so bright with breeders reporting a strong export trade for cattle.

The Highland Cattle Society was one of sixteen breeds represented at the National Beef Association event and secretary Hazel Baxter reflected the general mood of optimism.

"We had our breed sale at Oban recently and a third of the animals went to buyers from export markets," she said.

That same export demand is helping underpin beef and milk prices for local farmers says cattle breeder Libby Clarke.

"There is generally a world shortage of food and there are ambassadors from each country hitting the turf in Ireland and whether it's milk powder or beef we need to supply," she said.

Figures from the Department of Agriculture underline the upturn in farming fortunes.

Optimism

Farm incomes increased to £308m last year, representing an increase of almost 21%.

Farmers are quick to point out that rising fertiliser, oil and feed prices are eating into their returns but the general mood is one of optimism.

Here at the Dungannon event it is not just farmers who are feeling more confident, so too are many of the 80 or so trade stands which supply the local agricultural industry.

One mineral and vitamins salesman with more than 40 years experience in the agricultural market confirmed the upturn.

"Farmers seem to be on a high and its great to be part of it," he said.