RUAS President Billy Robson has highlighted the absolute imperative of retaining a sustainable farming industry in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the now customary DARD Breakfast on day two of Balmoral Show he said that farmers continue to represent the lifeblood of all the rural communities in the province.
“Every possible step must be taken to create wealth within production agriculture,” he added.
“When farmers are making money, they will spend it. This activity acts as a pump priming exercise for the rural economy as a whole. Unfortunately, too many of our rural towns and villages are in a state of economic decline. And the origins of this problem can be traced back to the fact that the sustainability of our farming industry is under tremendous threat.”
“We need a complete revitalisation of our rural economy. And this must process must be kick started without delay.”
Robson was responding to the speech made by Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill. She said that the farming sector is facing significant challenges at the present time but added that her department has a unique and vital role to play in opening new markets and supporting exports.
O’Neill added that, in the last year, beef and pork exports from Northern Ireland have gained access to additional markets in the Middle East, India, Thailand and across Africa.
“I am hopeful that 2015 will prove even more exciting in terms of furthering new market access across all meat sectors.
“My officials have been working closely with our beef and lamb processors to make preparations for an eagerly awaited approval inspection by US officials which I hope will take place later this year.”
The Minister also highlighted her recent efforts to open doors for exports in China.
“I will continue to use every lever available to progress negotiations. I welcomed the two inspection team audits of our pork processors in April, which represented a significant milestone in the approval process. While I am pleased we already export dairy products and cattle hides to China, I remain focused on agreeing access for beef and chicken. I look forward to a positive outcome for our industry.”
Turning to the dairy industry, O’Neill said last year’s 20% uplift in exports shows an increased worldwide demand for produce from Northern and added that further growing dairy exports will hopefully play a part in helping to turn around the recent decline in milk prices.
US Counsel General Greg Burton also spoke at the breakfast event. He confirmed that officials in the United States are currently assessing the application made by the UK to facilitate the export of beef and lamb to that market.
“All decisions made in this regard will be arrived at on a purely scientific basis,” he said.
Commenting on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently taking place between the United States and the EU, Burton said that a successful outcome would represent a win:win scenario for farmers in both regions.
“Fundamentally, nothing will be agreed that can act to undermine the scientific principles that underpin agriculture in both the United States and Europe,” he said.