Prime Minister David Cameron has been urged not to take Northern Ireland’s farming industry for granted.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it welcomed the opportunity to host the Prime Minister on a Co Antrim farm on Saturday morning.
The dairy farm in Ballymena is a family farm owned and run by the Johnston family. The UFU said this presented a unique opportunity to sit down with the Prime Minister and have a face to face conversation about their concerns for the agri-food industry.
UFU president, Ian Marshall, said that with farming here going through tough times it was an opportunity to stress at the highest level of government the importance of a successful farming industry to underpin the food industry in Northern Ireland. “It’s easy for politicians to take farming for granted – but it is a vital part of the UK economy, and that is even more so in Northern Ireland, he said.
The Prime Minister’s visit was part of his campaign to secure a ‘yes’ vote in the EU referendum in June. The UFU’s position is ‘no compelling case’ has yet been made by Brexit supporters that farming here would fare better outside the EU – although it has stressed it will not be advising its 12,000 members and their families how they should vote.
Mr Marshall said the UFU message was that farmers delivered an affordable, secure food supply and the environment people wanted.
“In the heat of the Brexit debate it is easy to get hung up on EU subsidies, which are vital for farmers. But behind that is an industry that makes a huge contribution to the UK economy and shapes our countryside. I always welcome the opportunity to put that message across to politicians – and our meeting with David Cameron was no exception,” said Mr Marshall.
With farm incomes here at crisis levels the UFU urged the prime minister to commit to a drive to simplify the CAP and make it more effective if he is successful in his drive to keep the UK in the European Union.
“We also underlined that farming could deliver jobs and growth for the local economy – but this depends on ways being found to introduce more fairness to the food supply chain. We all are all part of this chain from farm to supermarket shelf, but some of the players along it do a lot better than farmers,” said Mr Marshall.
Also at the meeting with the Prime Minister were key players from the food industry and the UFU’s commodity chairmen. Other issues raised included future export opportunities, supply chain issues, trade negotiations, farm support and the future of family farming in Northern Ireland.