New support must meet needs of NI farmers

Thursday, 19 November, 2020

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says it has a vision for a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector in Northern Ireland (NI), and wants to work with Government to achieve this by having a manageable transition to new farm support schemes. The comments were made after UFU office bearers briefed MLAs at Stormont’s Agriculture Committee on Thursday morning (19 November).

UFU president Victor Chestnutt said, “We are now in a time of unprecedented change which presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of NI agriculture and we want to work with Government and other industry partners to realise this. We need flexible devolution to adapt a policy to suit the differing regional needs of farming. Work has begun within UFU and the wider industry to feed into this process.

“At the very least the existing level of support and investment in NI farming needs to be maintained and a sufficient delivery implementation transition is required. This is vital to give individual farm businesses the necessary time to adapt and support being targeted at those who actively take risks in primary food production.

“The UFU is involved in ongoing discussions about how and why we should utilise public policy and investment to support our local farming sector, and the answer is obvious. Food and farming are at the core of NI and it affects everyone. The agriculture industry is a major contributor to the NI economy and delivers for the environment but the reality is, if we have a policy that doesn’t support NI agriculture we could end up with a farming and food system that functions poorly. Local food security and the price of food for consumers would be hit and basic living costs in NI could increase as a result.

“The demand for food at home and abroad is increasing day on day and our farmers need to be equipped to be able to deal with it. Support systems have to be put in place so that they can continue to protect the environment and tackle climate change while increasing their production of high-quality food produced to world leading standards. Standards that they are proud to uphold and that matter to our consumers.”

The UFU welcomes the clarification by the DAERA Minister to revise and improve the governing rules intended for direct support in 2021 including the farm inspections process as NI will no longer be constrained by the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy.

“The Agriculture Minister is making the right call on farm inspections. The inspection regime system needs to be reevaluated to create a more effective, risk-based inspection system that is more efficient and better suited to NI. 

“Balance is the key issue that needs to be addressed and the limits for maximum penalties needs to be reviewed. The use of the ‘yellow card’ approach for minor offences also needs to be looked at so farmers have the chance to resolve the issue in question,” said Mr Chestnutt.