Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell, has described a meeting on Saturday with the DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, as ‘constructive and reassuring’.
Speaking at a meeting before the Antrim Show, Mr Bell said he was hopeful Mr Gove’s vision of a ‘green Brexit’ would deliver quality food production and environmental stewardship from family farms.
“Brexit is a huge challenge for the farming industry. Since the referendum we have been impatient to see progress at Westminster. I’m now more hopeful there is a commitment to deliver a vibrant farming industry and a well-managed countryside. We finally have something from which we can work with others to build a successful future for agriculture,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU president said that in their discussions they had stressed the importance of a policy that reflected the regional differences across the UK.
“Farming here already delivers for the environment and we underlined the importance of recognising this in the new support arrangements,” said Mr Bell. He added that he was encouraged Mr Gove accepted the need to continue supporting agriculture after the commitment to maintain support for the term of this parliament ends. “We also made clear the importance of maintaining aid at the present level here, rather than basing it on some new UK-wide formula.”
Mr Bell said there was recognition by Mr Gove that farming was not just about maintaining the countryside but that the industry was the basis of the UK’s successful and internationally competitive food industry.
“We were encouraged that he recognised the importance of tariff free access to the EU-27 and of maintaining trade across the border here. He is someone who has always been committed to Brexit – but I believe he recognises the commercial realities of not building tariff walls to make business more difficult. We were also encouraged that he accepts the importance of ensuring that our products are not undermined by lower standard imports and that there would be a pragmatic approach taken to ensure a smooth transition to any new trade arrangements.”