Productive agriculture must be supported in plans for future

MEP Diane Dodds
MEP Diane Dodds

DUP MEP Diane Dodds looks at the issues affecting Northern Ireland agriculture at home and further afield.

There has been much talk in recent times around future trade arrangements and the impact upon agriculture across the UK. Of course this will be subject to negotiation and while the Government represents all four constituent parts of the United Kingdom in this process we have been reinforcing our views on the needs of Northern Ireland. At home, the news this week has focused on future agriculture post-Brexit.

Our view is every clear - that productive agriculture must be supported. A balance between agriculture and environmental protection can ensure that farmers are more profitable, productive and sustainable.

In relation to the environment, government funding and intervention must amount to much more than environmental schemes focusing purely on specific sites. It should be on agriculture as a whole. I don’t mean more restrictions on agriculture but greater research and development leading to better science and solutions. There is a real need for specific well-funded uptake of environmental technologies which should be open to all, ensuring growth for all sectors.

While it is important to get the right agriculture policy its success will ultimately be linked to funding. That is why the DUP through the confidence and supply deal secured the same cash funding for direct support until 2022. This is in stark contrast to the draft EU budget for 2021-2027 proposed this week, which suggests a reduction of 5% in the CAP budget - mainly due to a reduction of at least €10bn annually from the UK leaving the EU.

There is also a debate around standards going forward. The DUP is clear that any lowering of standards for imported goods is not acceptable. Farmers must have a level playing field in these areas. Standards must be much wider than food safety and take into consideration animal welfare and environmental impacts of imports. I fail to understand why the EU pushes for stricter environmental standards yet is willing to import food from areas which are for example cutting down forests to allow for greater food production.

In relation to Genetic Modification Organisms (GMO) we must look at the facts. To date there has been some commentary on this issue and speculation around whether the UK would open its doors to GM products. Technically, however, the EU already allows the cultivation of GMO and in fact relies heavily on imported GM Soya for example for its livestock sectors. Banning this importation would decimate these sectors right across the EU. The ironic position for a lot of Member States is that while they don’t want to cultivate GM crops they import GM crops to feed their animals.

Clear scientific evidence is the reason why we still have glyphosate available. Without this product huge costs would be introduced into the system and most likely see a reduction in productivity. Therefore robust scientific evidence coupled with a pragmatic approach must be the way forward for the industry.

Ultimately agriculture will adapt and play a full role in the future of Northern Ireland’s economy, producing for the GB, EU and global markets. This success will be based on a competitive, sustainable, high-quality and safe product. This should be the basis for making any future decisions.