UFU give oral evidence at NI Assembly AERA Committee on UK Agri Bill

Friday, 21 February, 2020

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Ivor Ferguson, alongside other UFU representatives, attended the Northern Ireland Assembly AERA Committee at Stormont to discuss the UK Agriculture Bill which will, in particular, determine the future of direct support for the agriculture industry post-Brexit.

Speaking on behalf of the UFU at Stormont, Mr Ferguson said, “As I had done at the Agriculture Bill Committee in the House of Commons last week, I highlighted that ultimately the future format of support for the Northern Ireland (NI) agri industry will depend on the outcome of future trade deals with the EU and other countries. If good deals are secured, farmers may not need more support than they receive at present although the delivery format of this support could change.

“If trade deals are agreed that undermine the industry and the situation is created where NI farmers are undercut by food producers operating in other countries to lower production standards, they will need much more support to keep their businesses viable. I stressed that ‘resilience support’ will have to be an integral part of possible future support measures.”

Mr Ferguson also raised the need for tracking agricultural support in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) under the NI/ROI Protocol which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the withdrawal agreement.

A pledge has not been made within the Agriculture Bill to safeguard UK food production standards which is a major concern.

“The agri-food industry supports every one in eight jobs and turns over £4.5 billion annually making the sector a substantial and vital contributor to the Northern Ireland economy. Future polices are being shaped and the UK unions are united in the belief that environmental, food and animal welfare standards must be maintained post-Brexit but that such a position must also apply to food imported from other countries. Otherwise, our farmers will not be able to compete in the market putting the future of their farm businesses at risk which will ultimately impact the entire NI agriculture industry.

“The Agriculture Bill currently commits to a report on UK food security at least once in every five years. Supporting sustainable and profitable food production must underpin the UK’s future agriculture policy and in our related written evidence, we emphasised that the report needs to be more frequent. Particularly during the initial period of transition to new trading arrangements and future format of agricultural support.

“The UK cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to food security. Farmers across the UK strive daily to produce the high quality, safe, delicious, and affordable food that consumers expect to see on supermarket shelves. The UK must continue to ensure farmers are supported to allow this to persist. Transparency and fairness in the supply chain is also an essential element within the bill and while we welcome the proposed measures to increase this for farmers and food producers, it needs to be strengthened and clarified to gain the widest scope.

“I was particularly encouraged that the NI Assembly's Agriculture Committee recognised that it was essential that at least the existing level of direct support for the local farming industry is maintained and also that safeguards needed to be put in place to ensure that our food production standards are not undermined by lower quality imports. It is essential that they now give their full support to the industry to have these key principles enshrined on a formal basis in the legislation associated with this crucial bill,” said Mr Ferguson.