NI must utilise opportunities: Dodds

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DUP MEP Diane Dodds has reflected on a busy month as a member of the Agriculture and Fisheries Committees in Europe, highlighting a number of important challenges facing Northern Ireland.

“As we enter 2016 many farmers are contemplating what the future holds for their businesses. Many are continuing to make hard choices in response to falling farm gate prices. Recent DARD figures evidence a significant drop in agricultural incomes, which to be honest we all expected and have been trying to mitigate against.

“I believe 2016 is a year during which we all have to take a good hard look at the way the industry functions and together make the necessary changes to deal with volatility.

“Let me be clear; there is no silver bullet to the difficulties we are currently facing. Short-term solutions should be the priority, including access to finance to aid cash flow, restructuring debt, fair input prices, as well as a push toward the Commission to enact adequate safety nets in times of extreme volatility.

“The industry itself must ask the hard questions around a more integrated supply chain and whether there is a desire to pursue fixed price contracts.

“While there are a range of challenges facing all sectors of local agriculture, it is important to remember that markets are cyclical and farmers are extremely resilient people. There are also positives out there. I have been impressed by the determination and enthusiasm of the Northern Ireland Executive and the whole agri-food sector toward delivering and supporting a showcase of our produce through the initiative “Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016”. As a voice for farmers, I feel this is an important year to demonstrate the hard work undergone on our farms and the high quality which is produced for the consumer.

“We as an industry also need retailers and consumers to tangibly recognise these achievements to ensure that food is not seen as a commodity product. The focus should be on food as a staple which we cannot live without. Hence why we need to support farmers through promoting local produce in our shops. There is also wider importance to promoting produce from Northern Ireland across the UK, Europe and into global markets. We export some seventy five percent of what we produce, and this makes Northern Ireland stand out as really important.

“We must continue to build on the work Arlene Foster has done in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment through trade missions, attending global food events, selling the merits of food tourism and providing the capital assistance, to build efficiencies within the agri-food sector.”