This week’s Oxford Farming Conference set the scene for a number of very positive perspectives to be espoused by leading agri food policy makers, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union chief executive officer Wesley Aston.
“I was particularly encouraged with the commitment given by DEFRA Secretary Liz Truss to find new export markets for UK food products,” he said.
“She is tying this theme in with the fact that 2016 has been christened the Year of Great British Food.
“This is an entirely separate initiative to that of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016, which will be launched next week. The DEFRA campaign will be centred on the hosting of trade missions for British food companies over the next 12 months.”
“Here in Northern Ireland we sell the vast bulk of the food that we produce in countries around the world. So the local farming industry should benefit directly from the proactive export-focussed commitments made by Liz Truss.”
‘Bold Agriculture’ was another of the themes debated at the conference, which resonated strongly with the union representative.
“This entails the attainment of greater innovation within the farming and food sectors, in tandem with a strong, standalone attitude.
“In our own case the template to make all of this work is already in place: it’s called the Going for Growth strategy.
“The UFU remains totally committed to the farming and food goals established for 2020. But we would like to see some of these become reality over the coming months.”
Aston confirmed that the conference saw a lively debate take place between EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan and former DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson on the implications for agriculture in the UK, should ‘Brexit’ become reality, in the wake of the upcoming referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.
“The union has not yet arrived at a definitive policy position on this matter,” he said.
“The issue will be discussed at length by members, courtesy of the upcoming President’s Area meetings.
“It was initially thought that the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU would take place in late 2017. However, there is now growing speculation that the Prime Minister could bring the date forward, possibly into this year.”