The Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (AERA) today noted its concern around comments made at a recent Committee meeting by Tony O’Neill, Chair of the Agri-food Strategy Board.
Mr O’Neill had been briefing the Committee on ‘Going for Growth’ and discussing issues around food processing, when he noted that “we need 5,000 or 6,000 high-volume production farmers to produce food competitively and we need 15,000 or 20,000 farmers to look after our environment, which we all want to do”.
Committee Chairperson Linda Dillon MLA said: “While Mr O’Neill may see merit in this theoretical model it would be an impossible and frankly implausible approach to implement in practice. Of course we should always be looking towards balancing the needs of the farming and environmental sectors, but this needs to be the responsibility of all farmers, including those involved in high volume production.”
Ms Dillon concluded: “Agriculture is one of our most important industries and one that we can be immensely proud of. We have over 20,000 farmers involved in food production and it would be impossible for us to now promote a two tier system of environmental and production farming. Farmers, rural dwellers and those that work within the agriculture sector all have a role to play in protecting and enhancing our rural environment, it is crucial that they also retain the right to farm as they see fit.”