FARMERS across Northern Ireland are glad to see the back of 2012 as it was a very difficult year for the farming community on a range of fronts.
The higher costs of feed and fuel coupled with less than adequate farm gate prices compounded by very poor weather all added up to a very difficult year.
2013 hopefully will be a better year for farmers and the farming community generally. The entire future of farming over the next 10 years will be determined by CAP Reform currently being negotiated in Brussels. Given that Ireland will host the presidency of the EU for the first six months of 2013, all farmers and people associated with the farming industry will be greatly interested in how CAP negotiations may conclude in a new farming deal for the next five to seven years.
Simon Coveney, the Minister for Agriculture in the Republic, will have a central role to play in the outcome of the CAP negotiations. The vital interests of Northern Ireland agriculture must be protected and indeed enhanced to make sure that the agriculture and food production industry can grow and expand over the next five to 10 years. The SDLP as a party and I as Agricultural Spokesperson will continue to support and lobby for the best interests of the farming community.
The new CAP deal must strike the right balance between support for area based provision and farm production related activities, as well as having some enhanced grant support for those farmers that work on the less productive, higher level ground. It is crucial that the greening environmental considerations do not impede farm production activities or be too cumbersome in terms of administration and needless bureaucracy for farmers.
2013 hopefully will be a better year in terms of the weather and farm gate prices. In Northern Ireland the agricultural industry is greatly dependant on export lead growth from our manufacturing food processing sector. The four billion food processing industry is vital in terms of job creation and sustained employment for both rural and urban dwellers.
As SDLP Spokesperson on Agriculture and Vice-Chairman of the Assembly Agricultural Committee I intend to continue highlighting the interests of the farming community and the vital economic prospects in terms of job creation and general economic well-being of both the farmer and those engaged in the food processing industry.