Comment: Where now for Poots?

Edwin Poots may have been leader of the Democratic Unionist Party leader for only 34 days but, let’s not forget, that he has held the position of agriculture minister since the beginning of 2020.

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 4:00 pm

Over the past 18 months he has, in my opinion, put the case for production agriculture in a very strong manner while also recognising that our rural heartlnds can really deliver for the economy as a whole.

Poots’ handling of the Covid challenge, where agriculture was concerned, highlighted perfectly his commitment to farmers. The aid schemes developed to cover the sharp drop in prices experienced during the months of April and May highlighted his awareness of just how exposed farm incomes are to market fluctuations. The fact that all sectors were covered by the aid package – including wool and those potato producers supplying catering outlets only – confirmed that it is possible to develop support schemes that can be tweaked in very fast changing circumstances. This week’s confirmation of the tremendous uptake for the pilot protein aid scheme is further testimony of the fact that a proactive farm minister can make a real difference for the industry he or she is serving.

For years the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Development (DAERA) had refused, outright, to introduce the original protein aid scheme that had been developed by the European Union. This was in total contrast to the position taken by the Irish government.Arable farming is a challenging enough occupation at the best of times. And the last thing that growers here needed was to be put at a very real and significant disadvantage, relative to their counterparts south of the border. For the record, Edwin Poots sorted that little matter out within a few short months of taking office. There were also signs that the Lisburn man was getting to grips with the bovine tuberculosis problem that has plagued agriculture for generations. So where now for Edwin Poots? He took over as farm minister with a clear vision for agriculture, food and rural affairs in a post-Brexit world.

Everyone knew that he had two years and a few short months to make a real difference in his new position. By that stage May 2022 would have come around and the public would have their say on the future make-up of the Stormont Assembly.