NEWRY & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Stormont Agriculture Committee member William Irwin has been reflecting on a tough year for agriculture and is hopeful of an improved outlook for the industry in 2013.
Speaking as the 2012 Stormont year draws to a close he said that farmers had experienced one of the toughest years in memory due to what he described as a “storm” of issues which had converged on the industry at one time.
He stated: “The farming industry this year in particular I feel has shown its resilience and it is certainly true and accurate to describe farmers as a resilient bunch. This year has seen the wettest 12 months on record and that has played absolute havoc with almost every aspect of farming from preparing ground, planting, harvesting and getting animals out to grass, it has been a very difficult time.”
He continued: “Financially the margins have been very tight and everyone is hoping for an early spring that would certainly help to reduce some of the pressure and try and recoup some of the losses from this year. Many of these pressures are outside of the farmer’s control, including the rising energy and input costs and it is extremely stressful for the farmer seeing production costs rise and rise, yet the price they are paid for their produce remains much too low.”
He added, “Of course pricing remains our biggest obstacle to sustainability and I trust that in 2013 the processors and retailers will react positively and give the farmer a fairer return for his hard work. Getting a fair deal for farmers is absolutely vital, especially on the back of a poor growing season.
“The minister and her department can also do more to assist the industry at this time by improving services and reducing bureaucracy. An important step would be ensuring for instance that the 20% of farmers who could possibly have to wait well into 2013 for their SFP will get these payments at a much faster rate. The department seems to reach the 80% mark and then almost grind to a halt in processing the final 20%. The delay in payment for those 20% which actually translates into thousands of farmers, especially in this very constraining financial climate, is only adding to the stress and concern.”
He concluded: “2012 has been a tough journey for all sectors of the industry and I know that everyone is hopeful of an improvement in 2013. I will certainly be up to the challenge of representing the farmer as a member of the Agriculture Committee at Stormont in 2013 and I will continue to put the farmer first and ensure their voice is heard loud and clear - as will the other members of my party both in the Assembly, Westminster and in Europe.”