Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry will embrace the unprecedented and exciting opportunities offered by the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen when she addressed the Oxford Farming Conference this week.
Speaking in the university town to an audience of farmers and agriculture leaders from across the UK, Miss McIlveen said: “My long term aim for Northern Ireland is to promote a sustainable, competitive, high performing, knowledge-based agri-food sector that is prosperous and compliant. That means it will be more resilient to shocks and challenges, have high standards of animal health and welfare, deliver for the environment and have increased market access.
“Brexit represents an unprecedented and exciting opportunity for Northern Ireland. We are, undoubtedly, in unchartered waters but this provides us with significant opportunities such as the ability to develop a future agricultural policy framework better suited to local needs, one that will provide for and secure long term sustainability; the opportunity to remove the unnecessary bureaucracy associated with current arrangements and the option to look at a different type of agricultural policy which will provide the necessary incentives for our farmers.
“It is quite clear that we are not going to have a system like the one we currently have. But why copy a system heavy on regulations and penalties that is not working for many farmers. Leaving the EU creates the opportunity to develop something different.”
Miss McIlveen made it clear that she will work diligently to promote and protect the needs of agriculture in Northern Ireland.
She continued: “As a region, Northern Ireland will look for some type of flexibility because as a region we are unique. Our agri-food sector is much more important to the local economy than is the case in the other parts of the United Kingdom. Future trade and support arrangements will be vital to the future prospects of our industry.”
The Minister, who joined a panel discussion with political representatives from the Scottish and Welsh Governments as well as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told delegates that any change in support mechanisms would need to involve a period of transition but added that both she and the Executive remain committed to getting the best deal for Northern Ireland.
“I have met with virtually every stakeholder from the agri-food, rural development, fisheries and environment sectors in Northern Ireland and set up the joint Brexit Consultative Committee with the Economy Minister Simon Hamilton to maintain constant communication.
“The Northern Ireland Executive will play its part to ensure we get the best possible deal for local agri-food sector, farmers, producers, processors and fishermen. I want to see a farming industry that is innovative, competitive, profitable and resilient,” she concluded.