South Down SDLP MP and EFRA Select Committee Member, Margaret Ritchie, has met with a delegation from the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association this week in Downpatrick to discuss a range of urgent farming and agricultural issues.
Margaret Ritchie said: “Prominent amongst the issues discussed included the need for the Northern Ireland Executive, the British government and the European Union to provide a strategic plan to put agriculture and the agri-food industry at the forefront of our rural economy and to work for increased profit margins and the future for farming and farm families throughout Northern Ireland, and in particular South Down.
“A general discussion took place which focussed on the impact of the decision to leave the European Union on farming and agriculture and in particular the future for subsidies; farm support arrangements and access opportunities to trading and export of agri-food produce to the 500 million people within the European Union. Other matters discussed included the need for farmers to achieve a Fair Price for Produce. Growth in the farming sector is vital to the sustainability of our local economy including the retention of existing jobs and the creation of new employment opportunities in this sector.
“Whilst the British Government has this week guaranteed farm payments up to 2010 if the withdrawal from the European Union takes place before that date there is a genuine concern amongst the farming population for guarantees to be given regarding the nature of the schemes that will receive funding; the future of the agri-environmental schemes and funding investment for them; the future of funding for areas of disadvantage commonly known as Areas of Natural Constraint, and what will be the shape and focus of the content and financial support mechanism for this scheme from 2017 onwards. Furthermore, farmers and their representative organisations are eager to obtain actual guarantees about the situation now and post 2010 regarding support arrangements and particularly for farmers in areas of uplands such as the Mournes, Slieve Croob and the Sperrins.”
She concluded: “I have made representations to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the local Minister for Agriculture urging that they meet with farming delegations across the spectrum to hear at first hand the issues and challenges facing one of our most important industries.”