Time for some decisions

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It’s six weeks, or thereabouts, since the referendum poll was taken.

So it’s time for the navel gazing to stop. Agriculture in Northern Ireland must adapt to a post Brexit world and it behoves all our political and farming leaders to get on with the job of sorting out what is the best strategic plan to come up with, where farming is concerned.

And what suits the rest of the UK may not suit us here in this part of the world. Crucially we need a support budget that meets the needs of farmers across Northern Ireland. And it must be ring fenced for the long term. Farm Minister Michelle McIlveen has already indicated that she wants to see support policies that work for our most productive farms. And this is a good thing. Now it’s a case of converting this sentiment into some form of reality – specifically in ways that will lighten the red tape burden on farmers, which is already excessive.

Finding new markets for our produce is another priority moving forward. But we are already losing ground in this regard. Two examples of this inertia immediately come to mind: we have yet to gain access to China with our pork and the Republic of Ireland has recently secured an agreement from the US to allow exports of Irish ground beef into that market. One could argue this latter point is good news for Northern Ireland as it will reduce the amount of Irish beef heading for the UK and the rest of Europe.

In truth, the local redmeat industry should have been in a position to export produce directly to the US long before this. However, hope springs eternal. Surely our new animal traceability system and pending upgraded BSE status – to that of a minimal risk region – will tick all the right boxes in Washington.

But there are, at long last, some good news stories to relate. A case in point is the decision by Lakeland to increase its base price up to 18ppl for July milk. This is a sign that the upturn in world dairy markets is now filtering down to the primary producer. And with all the dairies committed to a winter milk bonus again this year, the prospect of a Christmas milk price considerably in excess of 20ppl could well be a reality for many dairy farming families this year.