Has agriculture become forgotten sector of UK economy?
Recent days have seen the European Union announce a major support package for agriculture.
This step is a direct response to the enormous economic challenges now facing all farming businesses. Meanwhile, Westminster remains very quite on the matter!
A combination of Brexit, Covid-19 and, more recently, rocketing input costs has the potential to rock UK agriculture to the very core of its foundations.
In truth, agriculture has been living from hand to mouth for the past decade and more. This assertion holds equally for farmers in Northern Ireland, as it does for their producer colleagues in the rest of the UK.
One half-decent year has been followed by three or more of parlous prices, leading to an inexorable build-up of debt.
All sectors within production agriculture have been impacted by these trends in equal measure. The end result of all this has been a growing level of stress and worry for farmers of all sizes, leaving many now wondering if they have a future within the industry at all. To say that all the relevant authorities across the UK must carry out a fundamental review of agriculture is an understatement of great magnitude. The fact remains that our land and our people are the two greatest resources that we can offer the world. Everyone keeps telling farmers they must become more efficient. No one is denying this should be the case. But becoming more competent should not be regarded as ‘code’ for farmers having to take poorer prices. Any development strategy for agriculture here in Northern Ireland must be built around the premise that primary producers will receive equitable returns for the food they produce and the services they provide. In my opinion farmers play a crucially important role in maintaining the biodiversity and pristine environmental condition of our rural areas. They will also be at the heart of our response to climate change. These are services, which they will be providing on behalf of us all. To date, this aspect farming has been conveniently over looked by governments and those authorities, whose job it is to deliver a sustainable future for urban and rural dwellers in equal measure. Nor should equitable farmgate prices should not be regarded as a pipe dream. Food prices have consistently fallen in real terms over many decades. This trend must be reversed in ways that deliver sustainability for both farmers. It’s now up to London and Stormont to make sure this happens.