At the very least agriculture funding and support must be maintained at the current level, says the Ulster Farmers’ Union following the release of the summary of responses to the Northern Ireland Future Agriculture Policy Framework Stakeholder Engagement exercise.
The UFU warned a drastic change in the system will have a significant, detrimental, and long-term impact – putting the future of many family-run farm businesses in jeopardy.
UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “Northern Ireland’s Future Agriculture Policy must create the conditions for active farm businesses to be profitable and sustainable. A significant proportion of farm incomes in Northern Ireland comes from EU direct payments, which effectively act as an affordable food subsidy for consumers. We have a world-class food industry and farm to the highest quality, welfare and environmental standards in the world. There is a very real danger this will be lost if family farm businesses are not adequately supported.”
The UFU says the types of trade deals secured by the UK post-Brexit, will determine what level of support is needed.
“The government must allow as much time as possible to transition to the new policy, farmers will need time to adapt their businesses. Also, policy flexibility for the different UK regions is key. Farming in the south of England is different from farming on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Our local policy must suit our needs,” said Mr Ferguson.
Mr Ferguson added that it was positive that the majority of respondents supported all proposals, however, there was a divide on the continuation of the greening payment.
“Farmers must be recognised for the positive work they continue to do to protect and care for the environment. A lot of good work has been done on farms and in many ways, Northern Ireland is already ‘green by definition’. Our primarily grassland based farms and hill land, act as carbon sinks and we have more hedgerows than any other region in the UK.
“There are still areas where work can be done and we’re keen to work with the government and industry partners to find ways to deliver ‘public goods’ that take into consideration the realities of practical farming,” he said.
Mr Ferguson says releasing consultation responses is “all well and good” but without a government at Stormont the draft framework, along with many other crucial issues, will sit on the shelf.
“We need our local politicians to get back to work. Without a Minister in place, these consultation responses will sit with the civil service and it’s unclear what decisions can be taken and what can be implemented. Creating further uncertainty and making it difficult for farm businesses to plan for the future,” he said.