The Ulster Farmers’ Union has held a series of internal and external meetings in the wake of the referendum decision for the UK to leave the EU.
UFU President, Barclay Bell, says this is a major challenge for the farming industry, and that the certainty farmers need and want will take a considerable time to emerge.
“With the decision taken the debate for us moves from the politics to the practical. There are many areas where we need reassurance that the position of farmers will not end up worse.”Barclay Bell, UFU President
“With the decision taken the debate for us moves from the politics to the practical. There are many areas where we need reassurance that the position of farmers will not end up worse. These include long term substitute support measures for the CAP, market access to Europe and a simple trading relationship across the Irish border for all agricultural products,” said Mr Bell.
In the wake of the referendum outcome the UFU has already held meetings of its board, executive and also participated in what is expected to be the first of a series of meetings with the Northern Ireland Agriculture and Economy Ministers.
This is just the start of a process where issues related to Brexit will top the agenda.
Given that the process of leaving the EU will take at least two years, and represents uncharted waters, the UFU says its aim is to set priorities for the outcome and to then make sure they are achieved.
Mr Bell said: “This will involve negotiations here, in London and in Brussels. We do not under-estimate the scale of the task, but continued financial support and access to markets is key to the survival of the farming industry here, and indeed the many thousands of jobs in food processing.
“The decisions ahead will be the most crucial in a farming generation and this clearly highlights the importance of having a strong Ulster Farmers’ Union to represent the views of farmers from all sectors and across all geographical parts of Northern Ireland.
“We are committed to agreeing a strategy for what is best for the industry and seeing it implemented.”
He added that farmers and others would need patience for discussions that would bring many fears and frustrations for farming families.
“In an uncertain agricultural world they want reassurance and certainty – but for now the only certainty is that the existing CAP support measures and trading arrangements will remain in place until a new system is agreed,” he said.
The UFU said it welcomed assurances from the DAERA minister, Michelle McIlveen and the Economy minister, Simon Hamilton, that they are committed to delivering outcomes that will protect the industry.
“We were encouraged by their commitment and by their assurances that they will be at the centre of negotiations at Whitehall. Like us they recognise that there is no road map to a final decision, and that the industry needs an assurance of future financial support and market access. That has to be a good starting point for the long negotiations that lie ahead,” said Mr Bell.