The grassroots membership of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) supports the organisation’s current Brexit policy, according to union president Ivor Ferguson.
“The issue had been discussed at length at our last two Executive meetings,” he said.
“On both occasions a very clear majority of the members present expressed support for union policy on the matter.
“In addition, members of the presidential team have attended a number of group meetings in counties Antrim and Armagh over recent weeks. Again, most members in attendance expressed their support for the union’s Brexit policy.”
Mr Ferguson continued: “The union does support the Prime Minister’s current attempt to get a Brexit deal across the line. It is the only realistic option on the table at the present time.
“Leaving the EU with a ‘No Deal’ would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture in Northern Ireland.
“If there was another realistic Brexit plan to consider, then the union would give it active consideration. But that’s not the case.”
Outside of Brexit, Ferguson regards the Ammonia emissions’ issue as the biggest challenge facing local farmers at the present time.
“The stance taken to date by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is not realistic,” he said.
“It will serve only to prevent farm families across Northern Ireland from investing in their futures.
“Significantly, this point of view has been fully endorsed by the processing sector. As a result, Both the farming and food industries are now speaking with one voice to the Environment Agency on this matter.”
The UFU president added that the science associated with Ammonia emissions from farms is still evolving.
“For one thing the number of sites currently being monitored is not large enough to provide an accurate picture.
“Farmers know that they will have to do more when it comes to protecting the environment. Historically, they have been the custodians of the countryside. This is a role which they will continue to play.
“Looking at new ways to utilise slurry is an option for the future, in the context of the Ammonia emissions debate. But the Environment Agency’s proposal to reduce livestock numbers is an absolute non-starter.
“The union believes that more can be done to increase the scope of production agriculture in a sustainable way.”
Mr Ferguson also believes that environmental issues relating to agriculture should be dealt with on an all-island basis.
“Counties Monaghan and Cavan are home to pig populations which exceed that for all of Northern Ireland. Both counties also have expansive poultry sectors. Given this situation, the cross-border movement of Ammonia emissions emanating from these intensive livestock industries must be considered,” he said.
Turing to Bovine TB, Mr Ferguson said that future decisions regarding the eradication of the disease will be put on hold until a Stormont Executive is reconvened.
He continued: “As we move forward, the wildlife dimension to any future eradication programme must be actively tackled. The union has agreed the principle of a levy being collected on milk and cattle sales as a means of funding a wildlife cull. These monies would be put in the hands of an independent body for this sole purpose.
“However, the union will not accept any reduction in the reactor compensation levels made available to farmers.”
On the issue of future support measures for agriculture in Northern Ireland, Mr Ferguson said that the union had reacted quickly to the recent Agriculture Bill, published in London, courtesy of its response to the publication consultation called for by DAERA on the matter.
“We have made it clear that the main thrust of the schemes proposed for England and Wales will not work here,” he stressed.
“DAERA officials have subsequently endorsed our point of view on the issue. Where future support is concerned, the best way forward is a combined scheme containing an area payment contribution plus contributions that have a stronger production focus.
“Simply making support monies available as a stand-alone area payment skews the support in favour of those people renting land and not those who actually produce food from it.”