SDLP Member of Parliament and member of the EFRA Select Committee, Margaret Ritchie met with representatives of the Ulster Farmers’ Union on Monday 7th November in Belfast to discuss a range of farming issues.
The UFU delegation consisted of Deputy President Victor Chestnutt, Ian Buchanan and Crosby Cleland.
Ms Ritchie said the principal issue for farmers and those involved in the agri food sector is to enhance profitability and ensure that farming which is the bedrock of our local economy continues to be not only productive but to be pivotal in our local economy.
“A wide ranging discussion took place on a broad canvass of issues including the ongoing challenges faced by farmers in terms of Farmgate prices and the differential in prices for animals between Northern Ireland and Britain; the volatility in the milk sector and the impact of Brexit on the agri food industry and the need to have the ability of open borders along with the capacity of easy transportation of animals north and south of this island without tariffs being applied.
“Other issues discussed included animal identification issues and labelling and the work of the Sheep Reflection Group and the Sheep Carcase Classification which centres on weights and prices for sheep. This group of farmers wanted to ensure that lamb was promoted onto the housewife’s shopping list. Other issues discussed included insurance payments and premiums. Different meat plants levy different prices for insurance costs. The farming representatives would like standardisation of these issues.
“Following the meeting with the representatives from the Ulster Farmers’ Union I agreed to keep their viewpoints uppermost in the EFRA Select Committee agenda and also with the Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile Ms Ritchie also met with UK Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill last week to discuss the crew shortage crisis facing the fishing industry in the County Down ports.
She said: “This meeting was an opportunity to outline to the Minister this crisis which is facing the fishing industry in the County Down ports. Our local fleet is being assisted at sea by EU and non EU crew – in particular Filopinos who are highly skilled international mariners and fishermen. I am pleased that the Minister has now agreed to meet fishing industry leaders from Northern Ireland and Scotland before the end of this year.
“Boats are often tied up due to lack of crew and this can have a detrimental impact on the local economies. There needs to be a level playing field for the whole UK fleet to have access to seasonal non EU labour similar to other industries.
“The fishing industry is appealing to the UK government to assist and to positively intervene and there is a willingness on the part of the industry to ensure strict records are kept of non EU fishermen.
“I will be pursuing this matter with the Immigration Minister to ensure that the meeting with the representatives of the fishing industry takes place before the end of this year to ensure that the local fishing industry – both on-shore and off shore is underpinned and sustained.”