Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said 2017 was a year of challenges and opportunities for the farming community and wider agri-food sector.
Mr Irwin referred to the very difficult harvest season which created all sorts of problems for farmers at a critical time of the year but he also said there was room for optimism and opportunity with markets stabilising across the sectors.
He added: “It is hard to believe that another year is almost over and we in the farming community organise our lives by the calendar, with each month and each season requiring many tasks to be carried out in order to make farming work and produce our food.
“With the harvest season in 2017 one of the wettest for some time, it did cause all sorts of issues for farmers getting grass cut and crops harvested on what was and continues to be, very soft and saturated ground conditions. For the first time in my life time our family farm harvested crops in November!” the MLA said.
“Despite the challenges, as we draw close to Christmas and the New Year it is a good time to reflect on the year that is almost through. Most sectors have seen improvements which has been welcomed and after many months of immense pressure, it has been something of a relief to see some market stability.”
He added: “In terms of the wider agri-food production sector, it continues to be a vital contributor to our economy and whilst there is certainly room for more recognition from the big retailers and the processors in terms of pricing at the farm gate, hopefully more progress can be made in 2018.”
“Of course it is a great concern that we still remain without a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and there is no doubt that having locally elected Ministers making decisions in tune with the realities of agriculture here in Northern Ireland is the best option. Sadly Sinn Fein continues to prevent this from occurring. However I am glad that our ten DUP MP colleagues in Westminster are providing that essential and critical voice for Northern Ireland at this important time as the government negotiates our withdrawal from the EU.”
Mr Irwin concluded: “2018 will bring with it more challenges and indeed more opportunities and I hope that our farming community continues to show that all important resilience that has seen it through many difficult challenges in the past.
“I wish our farming community a Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. I would pause also and think of those who have suffered bereavement and will have an empty seat at the table. I trust they know God’s comfort at this time.”