DUP MEP Diane Dodds has welcomed assurances by the DEFRA Secretary that UK farm support will be guaranteed until 2022 but said a Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister will be needed to shape our future agri-support policies.
Here she responds to Mr Gove’s speech to the Oxford Farming Conference.
“The DEFRA Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, delivered a speech this morning at the Oxford Farming Conference covering a wide range of areas relating to agriculture, the rural fabric and the environment in particular. It is welcome to hear Mr Gove echoing the position reached through the Confidence and Supply Agreement that farming support would be protected until 2022. We specifically sought this assurance to bring certainty to the industry.
“For our farmers support is an important safety net which is key to allowing them to adapt to new challenges, invest and provide public goods which the market does not pay for. Mr Gove rightly highlighted the flaws in the current CAP and the need for reforms that deliver a more productive and sustainable agriculture. He also highlighted the unnecessary red tape, need for invention in infrastructure but also the importance of adopting new technology, investing in research and development, ultimately embracing change to ensure agriculture survives for future generations. This is an approach the DUP has long supported.
“Northern Ireland can play a huge part in delivering the ideals outlined this morning in particular around soil quality and sustainability. We also have a story to tell around agri-environment schemes and the impact which they have had in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that maintaining and improving high standards in areas like air, water and animal welfare are high on the agenda but with a pragmatic regulatory approach and support this is not a mountain too steep to climb.
“Gove’s vision is one of exporting more around the world, competing in a value-added market rather than solely on price, but not allowing British standards to be diminished. He highlights the opportunity to increase exports which would also allow for growth in the UK and EU markets.
“I also welcome the references towards reducing red tape and the complexity currently faced by farmers - positive examples of moving to a more risk based inspection process, removing overlaps between agencies and a break from some areas of cross compliance in the future will all be welcomed. He mentioned on a number of occasions the complexity of measuring field margins under EU regulations and the flawed nature of land based payments.
“Of course the devil is in the detail. There is a recognition that DEFRA needs to do more and the pace of change needs to be accelerated. While the Secretary of State made direct reference to practical changes for England it once again shows that Northern Ireland will require direction as to how it would implement agriculture policy going forward. Unfortunately due to the ongoing intransigence of Sinn Fein local farmers are left without a local voice and the ability to take decisions. A return to a functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly is imperative.
“In this unacceptable vacuum the DUP will continue to engage with the Government to demonstrate the needs of our farmers. We will utilise and build on the role already secured for Northern Ireland in discussions on a future farming framework within our confidence and supply agreement. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has already visited Northern Ireland by way of invitation from this Party and I trust the references to Ulster dairy farmers and our livestock farmers in the speech today reflects the need to engage to deliver for our farmers.”