Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell says it is crucial politicians at Westminster fully understand the vital contribution farming makes to Northern Ireland’s economy, environment and wider society.
He says this must be recognised in the preparations for Brexit. “We punch above our weight when it comes to agriculture. Farming is a core industry in Northern Ireland and it drives the local economy,” says Mr Bell.
The comments were made after the UFU met with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman, Neil Parish MP and hosted him on a number of farms. The UFU says key issues that must be addressed include the border, trade, regulation, labour availability and direct support.
“Support, in particular, is a major issue. The market still does not deliver for farmers, and it is unlikely Brexit will solve this problem. With more than three-quarters of farm incomes coming from the CAP, Westminster must ensure adequate support continues after Brexit. This is about getting funding and delivery measures right. The alternative would be a financial crisis on farms. That would hit not only the agri-food industry, but the wider economy in Northern Ireland,” says Mr Bell.
Trade and the border remain key issues for the UFU, with considerable uncertainty over what impact Brexit will have on the unique relationship farmers here have with processors in the Republic of Ireland, and vice versa. Also vital, it says, is the future for younger farmers and those who want to develop their businesses.
“We made clear to the EFRA committee chairman how important it is that local and national politicians fully understand the importance of agriculture and the unique challenges Northern Ireland will face as we leave the EU. There can be no mistakes – the government must get it right for agriculture,” said the UFU president.