Agriculture needs a road map to sustainability - now

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I am being inundated with calls from farmers, all asking the same fundamental question: why should I work for nothing?

These same people are also making it very clear that they cannot make ends meet and are distraught as they consider the prospect of continuing poor commodity prices. They see no light at the end of the tunnel.

I have been around the farming industry for 30 years. Over the past decade alone I have experienced the lows of 2009 and 2012. Throw in the crises that hit the pig and poultry sectors in the years post our joining the EU, and I thought that I had seen it all, where farming downturns are concerned.

But nothing could have prepared me for the total feeling of despair that is now permeating most sectors of local agriculture. And this is an issue which our farming and political leaders must address as a matter of priority.

Over the past number of years, these very same people told farmers that they must play their part in feeding the world. On the back of this encouragement many producers expanded their businesses as they committed to develop sustainable businesses, both for themselves and the generations to come.

It is these very same people, who now find themselves deep in debt and in total despair regarding their future prospects.

And – lest we forget – these are the very farmers on whom every food processing operation is depending to deliver all of the targets laid down with the ‘going for growth’ strategy.

Fundamentally, our farmers need to be provided with a road map to sustainability. It is up to agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill and her Stormont Executive colleagues to show leadership in this regard. And the clock is ticking.

If something isn’t done to rectify the fundamental problems now facing agriculture in Northern Ireland, there may well be very few producers left on the ground by the time markets - particularly within the dairy sector - start to pick up.

Visitors to Parliament Buildings at Stormont are told that Northern Ireland’s economy was founded on ship building, textiles and agriculture. The first two on the list have been relegated to the history books: if we are not careful agriculture could soon follow suit!