March should put a spring in our step

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Spring has arrived at last and with it the prospect of leaving behind the concerns associated with housing cattle and sheep.

There is no doubt that the great outdoors remains the most natural environment in which to keep ruminant livestock. Despite current fertiliser prices, grazed grass remains the cheapest form of feed for ruminant livestock. Dairy, beef cattle and sheep grazing contentedly in the fields sends out all the right messages to consumers about the way milk and lamb are produced in Northern Ireland. It is our strongest marketing image and we must never lose sight of this fact.

Dairy, beef cattle and sheep grazing contentedly in the fields sends out all the right messages to consumers about the way milk and lamb are produced in Northern Ireland.

Richard Halleron

Indeed, any steps that we can take as an industry to enhance this status in the eyes of consumers must be taken, hence the importance of measures such as the Rural Development Programme. There is now little doubt that the average man and woman in the street is prepared to pay that little bit extra for food which he or she believes has been produced under the highest possible welfare and environmental standards.

One of the United States’ leading thinkers on agriculture, Professor Theodore Alter, recently confirmed that it should be possible for the agri-food sector to increase its overall share of total consumer spending, provided farmers openly embrace the tenets of environmental protection and welfare friendly production practises. He also pointed out that farmers must achieve this while, at the same time, striving to increase the output from their land. The most recent official estimates predict that the world’s population will double over the next 25 years.

Spring is a time of new growth, symbolising nature’s commitment to make a new start every year. Farmers are the custodians of the countryside. There is now little doubt that the key challenge lying ahead of them will be that of maximising our land’s ability to produce food while, at the same time, adding to its environmental heritage and conservation value. Who said that farming is a sunset industry?