New NI Executive ‘must commit to supporting local farmers’ says assembly candidate

The new executive must commit to supporting local farmers as they face “distinct challenges amid a changing agricultural landscape”.

The comment was made by East Londonderry independent assembly candidate, Claire Sugden, who was speaking following a visit to a dairy farm just outside Portrush.

She said farmers had worked with each other to formulate “bold plans” and that the new government will need to catch up and provide the help that is necessary to get them up and running.

Ms Sugden commented: “Brexit, the climate emergency, global economics and serious environmental concerns have created a situation where bold steps are needed to ensure the survival, and sustainability, of an industry that employs – directly or indirectly – around 100,000 people here.

East Londonderry Assembly candidate Claire Sugden speaks with Portrush dairy farmer William Chestnutt during a recent visit

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“Given the size and importance of this industry for Northern Ireland – and especially in this particularly rural constituency of East Londonderry – the current staffing crisis and labour shortage is an issue that needs addressed urgently.

“The migrant labour laws that were brought in after Brexit mean many positions that would have been filled by overseas workers now cannot be.

“Without changes to these rules we face the prospect of livestock culls or produce rotting in the fields or factories.”

The assembly candidate called for a fair milk price for farmers - one that keeps pace with increasing production costs.

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East Londonderry Assembly candidate Claire Sugden speaks with Portrush dairy farmer William Chestnutt during a recent visit

“As I have heard first-hand in Portrush, feed, electricity, fuel, medicines and essentially every other significant cost for producing milk are going up,” she continued.

“If we are to avoid farmers leaving, or being forced out of the dairy industry, their businesses must remain profitable.

“Schemes are also needed to incentivise farmers to work in a way that benefit both the living environment and climate, but that remains profitable and sustainable for farms as businesses.

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“Farmers, working collectively through the Ulster Farmers’ Union, have created the Farming with Nature scheme that seeks to do just that.

“The future Agriculture Minister must sit down with farming representatives in order to dissect the details, make any necessary changes and work out the funding required for such a scheme.

“Above all, the current momentum among farmers to move towards a more environmentally sustainable model must be maintained.”

Ms Sugden said farmers’ concerns about new free-trade deals being signed after the UK’s EU withdrawal are legitimate and need to be resolved.

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She added: “With any new trade deal we, first, have to be aware of the economic repercussions domestically.

“We must also ensure we are not undermining our own welfare and environmental standards by importing produce from countries with lower standards.

“The same applies to ‘off-shoring’ carbon emissions.

“It is wrong, and indeed farcically so, to lower our own climate emissions by effectively paying another country to increase theirs.”

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The independent candidate said farming is indelibly linked to the rural communities in which it exists, and these communities must have the focus of the new government, with vital public services being maintained.

She stated: “Many in rural communities rely on farming for their livelihoods,

“This is one of many important reasons to protect the industry, but in addition to farming these places must have other services and facilities ensured and improved.

“Rural transport, broadband, health care access and schools are all part of the essential make-up of rural communities.

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“One supports the others and to ensure the survival and prosperity of rural communities, each must be robustly protected and enhanced,” Ms Sugden concluded.