UFU threatens to ‘take to the streets’

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt has confirmed that he will take farmers on to the streets in protest if Clare Bailey’s climate change bill, currently under scrutiny at Stormont, makes its way on to the statute book.

The North Antrim man said that he would not stand idly by and allow large swathes of Northern Ireland’s livestock industry to be decimated by what he regards as proposed legislation that is not grounded in scientific fact.

He added: “Don’t get me wrong, the farming industry fully recognises that it must respond in a very constructive manner to the challenge of climate change. But I won’t stand for the introduction of legislation that will destroy so many thousands of jobs in rural areas for no good reason.

“And this is what’s coming down the track if Clare Bailey’s bill is accepted in its current form.”

Reflecting on the Union’s current policy priorities, Chestnutt confirmed that all farm input costs are rising at the present time.

“I think this will re-focus the industry,” he further explained.

“Farmers will be encouraged to minimise their use of inputs as they look to the future. This will entail the greater use of soil testing, monitoring pH values and looking at the inclusion of clovers in grassland swards.
“On our own farm we are currently growing more grass than ever. This is down to making better use of slurries.
“We will all learn to do things differently moving forward. But this is happening against the recent uplift in farm gate prices.
“If it’s just a case of inflation kicking in across the board, then farmers should be in a position to take more off the farm than they are taking in.
“The current hike in input costs is concerning. But we all need to find smarter ways of working.”
The Union president also believes consumers now recognise that they will have to pay more food into the future.
The UFU president pointed out that society as a whole buys into the principle of supporting UK agriculture into the long term.
He explained:“As an industry we need long term support. But I also think that the support farmers need will always be there.
“It may be drawn down differently. But if we are truly serious about climate change farmers are unique in being able to operate on both sides of the equation.

“Getting the money may well require farmers involving themselves in a number of different schemes. And I think this is only right and proper.”
Chestnutt continued: “The downside is that life looks set to become more complicated for farmers as they access the support that is available. But government also recognises that agriculture plays such an important role in maintaining environmental standards across the country as a whole.
“And, on that basis alone, it will have no option but to continue supporting the farming sectors.
“Looking to the long term we need to see at least the same level of support coming into the industry, as is currently the case.
“Last year, the single payment accounted for 81% of the income generated on local farms. This situation is not going to change as we look to the future.”
The Union president has received a commitment from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that real progress will be made on the issue of bTB eradication before he leaves office next spring.
And, as far as he is concerned, this must mean addressing the significant reservoir of disease within Northern Ireland’s wildlife populations.
He commented: “Unfortunately, wildlife intervention has to be part of the strategy moving forward. And I have absolutely no dislike for badgers, whatsoever.
“I have just returned from a three-day trip to England where I had the opportunity of assessing the badger cull taking place there at the present time.
“The work is extremely well managed. And it has having the desired effects. Farmers are reporting significantly lower levels of bTB breakdowns.
“The other thing that impressed me was the fact that farmers on whose land a cull was carried out are reporting that other forms of wildlife are making a re-appearance. These include hedgehogs, brown hares and ground nesting birds.”

Full interview on pages 28 and 29.