The Ulster Farmers’ Union used a meeting with the EU farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, to stress that the entire farming industry is still facing deep financial problems – and that radical thinking by Brussels will be needed to ensure agriculture continues to deliver for rural areas and the wider economy in Northern Ireland.
The commissioner met the UFU as part of a planned visit to present the facts on EU membership to farmers in advance of the June referendum. While the UFU is not taking a position on this, it took the opportunity to warn the commissioner that farmers’ votes should not be taken for granted.
“A key issue for us will be assurances that the EU is still committed to the European Investment Bank (EIB) becoming involved in tackling the short term cash flow crisis and longer term funding of farm borrowings,” said UFU president, Barclay Bell.
The UFU has been pressing this issue with the Commission and in meetings with senior EIB officials. It wants evidence that this is still on track. Also on the agenda for the meeting in Warrenpoint were export market developments, not least because the Russian market, which is particularly hitting the pig industry is still closed, ways to create opportunities for young people to enter and develop within the farming industry, the EU designation criteria for areas of natural constraint, the over bureaucratic EU requirements associated with ‘greening’ which NI readily satisfies, and negotiations on EU trade agreements with other trading blocks with Mercosur and beef access being a particularly critical issue.
“We were pleased the Commission increased the dairy intervention ceiling – but we need assurances from Phil Hogan that the EU accepts there are still major problems in the dairy sector. We are keen to know his latest thinking on longer term strategies to make volatility less of an issue for dairy farmers,” said Mr Bell.
He added that the EU also needed to show its commitment to greater fairness along the food supply chain, so that farmers did not suffer from being the weakest players.
“If Europe is to get farmer’s backing for the EU then it needs to do so by clearly showing that it understands the issues undermining agriculture, and has the ideas needed to make the CAP and other parts of EU policy deliver better for farmers in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Bell.