Time for distraction is over - MEP Dodds

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DUP MEP Diane Dodds reflects on an eventful summer commentating on the changes in the political landscape and some of the positive signals starting to emerge for farming.

As the summer comes to a close with children going back to school, the predictable spell of good weather which normally accompanies this event has arrived - at least for a while. For many livestock farmers, the silage season is nearing an end, whilst many arable farmers are getting into their spring crops.

Unfortunately, no matter the task, the wet summer has made ground conditions rather difficult. As arable farmers continue to complete their harvest can I encourage those who need straw, please consider buying locally.

Over the course of the summer, I have used the break from Brussels to get out and about, meeting farmers and industry stakeholders and discussing many issues, not least Brexit. The purpose of this has been to get a feel for what the industry wants from Brexit and also to ensure that people are realistic in what can be delivered. There has been a clamber by some to rush to Europe with a great wish-list, yet it is imperative that we work with the industry here, and with those from Westminster who will be lobbying on our behalf, to ensure we get what is the best possible deal for NI agriculture.

Some sectors are already seeing the benefit of a Leave vote alongside a general upturn in the market. The weakening of the sterling against the euro has seen growing demand for livestock, driving prices, especially from the Republic of Ireland with large numbers of lambs being purchased. On the other hand the exchange rate has made foreign imports less attractive for British retailers, and there is a need for greater certainty around supply. This means making sourcing more British produce a greater priority. Of course this year’s basic payment will enjoy a marked increase in value given change in the exchange rate, a much needed cash injection for farmers. In recent weeks we also received reassurances from Treasury that direct support would be guaranteed through to 2020, a sign that agriculture spending is not the poor cousin of other EU schemes.

The summer has seen some positive signals for the dairy sector in particular. Production figures are showing a decline, with some significant shortfall in areas of Great Britain. The global dairy trade auction over the past month has shown some improvement, with Fonterra also increasing the payout figures to farmers.

At home many processors have increased base rate prices. While these signs are encouraging, prices remain far from acceptable and it is vital that processors reflect currency advantages and market improvements back to farmers without delay.

This week, the Commission has also given more detail on its dairy package, which is designed in part to encourage a reduction in supply. Over the next number of weeks more information will become available as to how to apply for this scheme and I would encourage farmers to read the detail and see if it is suitable for their businesses.

Over the next number of months, I and my party colleagues will continue to ensure that Northern Ireland is equipped for agriculture post-Brexit. This week the Prime Minister made her position perfectly clear on a second referendum and ruled out a snap general election. Brexit is going to happen and it is imperative that those who wish to distract from the task ahead are dissuaded from doing so. There are those who hold genuine concerns about the outcome of June’s vote. There are also many who have very real optimism. The key is bringing together these diverse opinions, giving everyone a stake, and establishing an informed framework for the future.