The Ulster Unionist Party has launched its 2015 Westminster Election Manifesto priorities for agriculture and rural communities.
Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA said: “The agri-food sector in Northern Ireland is one of our greatest economic assets. It remains our largest indigenous employer, with 74,000 people working between farming and the food and drinks processing sector. It is now worth well over £1bn a year.
“Unfortunately however, whilst the sector continues to thrive in regards to its output, these figures mask the tough realities facing our farmers. For instance the problems facing our dairy industry are arguably more acute now than they were a number of years ago.
“There remains so much more that the Assembly and Westminster could be doing to support our farmers and the food industry. The Going for Growth Strategy, whilst ambitious has only now really started to be implemented – two years after it was announced. I have no doubt that this malaise has inevitably limited the potential growth as new export markets went untapped.
“Our farmers are leading in the adoption of new technologies and methods, yet they still face the same old problems from the Department that they did years ago. The rates of red tape across the sector remain unacceptably high, despite repeated commitments from the Minister that she is working to reduce it.”
Tom Elliott MLA, who also sits on Stormont’s Agriculture Committee added: “This is an extremely important election and rural communities right across Great Britain and Northern Ireland will play an key role in determining its outcome.
“In our manifesto we have pledged to carry on supporting our farmers and all those who in live in the countryside. But more than that we have made specific policy commitments that Ulster Unionist MPs, MLAs and Councillors will seek to deliver.”
“Our proposals include changing the process in which ASSIs are designated so that landowners and communities are given a greater say, respecting the rights of those engaging in country sports and a more practical approach to house building in the countryside so that the next generation are given a fair chance to call it home.”