UFU to seek immediate meeting with new farm minister

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) sources are confirming the organisation’s intention to seek an immediate meeting with Northern Ireland’s new farm minister.
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It is envisaged that a number of fundamental policy matters will be up for discussion, with the issues of future farm support, ammonia emissions and bovine tuberculosis bTB eradication taking priority.

The recent series of UFU presidential area meetings provided the Union office bearer team with an opportunity to communicate policy priorities while also listening to feedback from grass roots’ members.

UFU president, David Brown, has already made it clear that agriculture in Northern Ireland must be adequately funded into the future.

UFU president David Brown. (Pic: McAuley Multimedia)UFU president David Brown. (Pic: McAuley Multimedia)
UFU president David Brown. (Pic: McAuley Multimedia)

In practical terms this means securing a significant increase in the current £300M paid out annually by way of the single payment support measure.

Where bTB is concerned, three Union priorities have already been put into the public domain.

First off, the organisation is totally opposed to any reduction in bTB reactor compensation values and will legally challenge any steps taken by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to this end.

David Brown commented:

“We have already made veterinary service officials within the department of agriculture fully aware of our views on this important manner.

“Livestock farmers are incensed that DAERA should even consider taking such steps at this time.”

According to Brown, the UFU has already received initial legal advice regarding the scope of the public consultation, now underway.

He is particularly keen that as many farmers as possible should take part in this process.

Specifically, the UFU president feels that the term ‘compensation’ is a misnomer when associated with the removal of BTB reactor animals.

“Farmers are not compensated in any way for the loss of revenue incurred in these circumstances,” he said.

“This is a critically important issue for livestock farmers across Northern Ireland. The Ulster Farmers’ Union will not accept any reduction in the budget to cover the valuation of reactor cattle.

“Nor will we accept any proposal aimed at farmers having to pay the cost of bTB testing.”

Hand-in-hand with this commentary, the members of the UFU presidential team have stressed the role of the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton Harris, in pushing the bTB valuation issue at the outset.

Significantly, there is a growing belief that Northern Ireland’s new farm minister has the power to take the matter of bTB valuations off the table altogether. This would necessitate a rescinding of the ongoing public consultation.

It will be interesting to see if the Union will ask the new minister to take such a decision.

The UFU will also want to engage with the minister on how best to eradicate bTB. The last two years have seen stakeholders across agriculture join forces with DAERA officials to develop a new strategy to eradicate bTB. Significantly, it included measures to tackle the issue for TB in wildlife.

Last autumn, however, saw a number of welfare groups securing a judicial review outcome, which deemed the measures in the new policy relating to wildlife to be unlawful.

At the time DAERA decided not to appeal the outcome of the judicial review.

So the new farm minister has one of two fundamental decisions to make: either push to appeal the judicial review outcome or introduce new bTB eradication legislation through Stormont.

Again, it will be interesting to gauge how the members of the UFU presidential team approach this matter.

Another priority for the Union will be that of reversing of new ‘ammonia’ related measures, specified by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

The UFU is claiming that all farm development programmes could come to a halt in Northern Ireland.

According to David Brown, the new measure will relate to both new developments and the replacement of existing sheds.

At the heart of the matter, is the recent assertion by NIEA that farm building work is, essentially, prohibited if the site in question is within7km of an area of outstanding scientific interest.

David Brown points out that the new recommendation takes in 97% of the land farmed in Northern Ireland.

He further explained:

“The measure will drastically stymie investment across all the farming sectors.

“An industry must be allowed to invest in its future.”

The Union presidential team believes the NIEA the impact of the new ammonia measure must be confronted. But it will take the decision of a future Stormont Executive minister to make this happen.

One legacy issue from last year is the impact of last autumn’s floods on many potato and vegetable growers in Co Down and Armagh. After considerable lobbying on the part of UFU office bearers, a business case for compensation was put before DAERA economists.

This approach on the part of the Union fell short. However, it is envisaged that the new farm minister could make the political decision required to fund a compensation package for affected growers.