Ian Marshall can look back with a fair degree of satisfaction on the achievements that he has notched up over his two-year stint as Ulster Farmers’ Union president.
The history books will confirm that his term in office coincided with the worst downturn in the fortunes of farming and food, stretching back over many decades. But despite this, he recognised the need for the farming industry to have strong leadership, something which he combined with a lot of innovative thinking.
It was he, more than anyone else, who recognised the changing role which the banks must play, in delivering a sustainable future for agriculture. And, hopefully, the coming weeks will see these financial institutions agree new, long term financial models with the Union that fully take account of the volatility factors that are now so embedded within international food markets.
Throughout all the gloom and the doom that seems to have permeated every facet of farming for the past 18 months, Ian never veered away from his fundamental belief that the industry can look forward to a bright future. And I am in no doubt that his rock solid stance on this matter helped make the job of getting the Stormont Executive on board the ‘agri food train’ that much easier.
There is also no question that his good working relationship with agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill ensured that the new rural development programme contains a strong vision for production agriculture. And courtesy of the new capital development programme – the Farm Business Investment Scheme – we should see strong evidence of this becoming a reality over the coming months. And, yes, I realise that farmers may not have the money now to commit to long term development plans. But the aforementioned scheme must be judged by its impact over the next five years: not the next five months.
And, finally, Ian had always time for the media. He was consistently on top of his brief and answered all the questions thrown at him with total openness and candour. Let’s hope his successor has the same skill set!