All of the bespoke support arrangements that were made available to young farmers, courtesy of the last review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), must be enshrined in whatever measures are put in place by government for the industry post-Brexit, according to Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU president James Speers.
“The young farmer top-up of the single payment is a case in point,” he said.
“But we have to look beyond this as we look to the future.
“For example, the current arrangements do not support those farm families where young farmers had been made head-of-holding prior to the date of the new support measures being introduced.”
He added: “This was grossly unfair as many farmers under the age of 40 lost out on valuable support funding that should have been made available to them.
“Over the coming days we will be responding to the call made by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for responses to its consultation on the way forward for agriculture in Northern Ireland.
“Having reviewed the document we would be largely supportive of the content and YFCU look forward to working with DAERA in shaping the landscape for young farmers entering the industry.”
Mr Speers welcomed the recent publication of the Agriculture Bill by Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs secretary Michael Gove MP.
“This will help kick-start a debate on how UK agriculture can be supported over the coming years,” he further explained.
“But, fundamentally, there is also a need for the farming sectors in Northern Ireland to have the opportunity of shaping policies that meet their own specific needs.
“Making this happen will require the active input of our own politicians. This is why getting the Stormont Assembly and Executive up and running again is so important. We need our own farm minister making decisions that meet the exact needs of local farmers.”
Speers made these comments following his recent return from Brussels, where he headed up a deputation of 10 accompanying YFCU members. While there they had meetings with Mairead McGuinness, the vice president of the European Parliament, and Ulster Unionist Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jim Nicholson.
“Both are totally supportive of the need to put the requirements of young farmers centre stage as part of an evolving support policy for agriculture,” said Mr Speers.
“They specifically recognised the valuable role that a land mobility programme can play in giving young farmers a foothold as they strive to develop careers for themselves with a strong focus on production agriculture.”
“But that’s only part of the story. Mobility programmes will also be key when it comes to ensuring that land is put to the best possible use, from a production point of view. The potential to increase farm productivity in Northern Ireland is immense.
“Our own land mobility programme, which was launched 12 months ago is already confirming this reality.”
Mr Speers concluded: “I would like to thank Jim Nicholson for hosting our visit to Brussels.
“Young farmers have a crucial role to play at the very heart of agriculture in Northern Ireland. But future support systems must be put in place to make this a reality.”