Despite a difficult 12 months for the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland, Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell has used his annual message to urge the organisation’s membership to ‘stick together’ as they move forward.
2018 marks the union’s centenary – a very special milestone for the organisation – with events planned across the year to mark the occasion.
However, Brexit and the lack of a devolved agriculture minister at Stormont are among the concerns raised by Mr Bell, with the impact of the difficult weather conditions experienced by farms in recent months also featuring.
Mr Bell said: “As 2018 approaches, it is easy to become disheartened by the political situation, both here and indeed the rest of the UK, but I would like to focus on the positive. This will be a very special year for the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and a year to celebrate.
“In 1918 the Ulster Farmers’ Union was constituted and for one hundred years has represented the interests of every sector of farming in Northern Ireland. I believe the structure of our union has allowed every single member to have a voice and it is that democratic process that has stood the test of time.”
“We look forward to celebrating this major milestone throughout 2018, both with our members and a wider audience, and we have a full calendar of events planned.
“This is also an opportunity to promote all that is good about the farming industry in Northern Ireland. Too often the industry seems to be under threat from all sorts of misinformation from organisations with a very narrow agenda. Perhaps they should consider - do they want to import their food from other parts of the world with lower environmental regulation, lower animal welfare standards and possibly not even a minimum wage? The message is very simple. Keep our farmers farming and we will deliver safe, traceable food, produced to world leading standards.”
Mr Bell was also clear on the challenges that lie ahead, particularly those posed by Brexit.
He continued: “Brexit will continue to be a challenge. Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and his department have an opportunity to safeguard and increase the supply of top quality UK food. Farmers accept there are environmental challenges. They accept their environmental responsibilities. However, the environmental lobby must also accept that unless there is a profitable farming industry we will simply not be able to deliver any of their aspirations.
“The new year will more than likely see an Agricultural Bill pass through Westminster - get it right, and we can move the farming industry on to the brave new world, which, I believe the vast majority of active farmers wish to embrace. For all our businesses, we need to realise this change isn’t far away and not leave it to the last minute to consider what it means for you and your family.”
The lack of a devolved administration at Stormont is a frustration for many and the those in the farming community are no different.
Mr Bell said the absence of a devolved agriculuytre minister had come at a cost to farmers.
He said: “One of the major frustrations over the past year has been the absence of a devolved agriculture minister. Farmers have suffered a number of failings as a result. TB continues to be a scourge on our livestock industry but until a minister is in place it is difficult to see how meaningful intervention can happen.
“Farmers around Plumbridge and the North West, whose farms and land were devastated by the flooding in August, have been left wondering about financial support. Difficulties and uncertainty around ammonia emissions continues to plague the Farm Business Improvement Scheme. There have been ongoing delays to the establishment of the livestock genomics programme and the agri-food marketing body but we are determined to see meaningful progress on these and other issues – with or without a minister being in place.”
Looking baclk over the last few months one issue has risen above many others - the weather.
Seemingly endless rain has impacted across the industry with many sectors feeling the pain.
“The weather of 2017 will certainly not be forgotten and will present many challenges as we head into the spring of 2018,” said Mr Bell.
“For some of our grain growers there has been total crop loss and for others very difficult harvesting conditions. It has been a similar story for our potato farmers and there will be heavy losses. Fodder shortages are a major concern and we will continue to work with DAERA to find the best way forward.”
Looking ahead Mr Bell’s message is one of safety first.
He continued: “As we head in to 2018 I hope we all start the year the way we mean to go on and FARM SAFE. There are still far too many accidents on farms and we all have a role to play in addressing the problem.”
In cludining he said: “On behalf of the Ulster Farmers’ Union I hope we will all have a safe, profitable 2018 and a year of much better weather. We look forward to meeting you at some of our centenary and other events. If you are not currently a member, we strongly urge you to join.
“The Union is about people; its continued success depends on the moral and financial support of members. Many good men and women give their time to help their fellow farmers. What the UFU has secured for Northern Ireland’s farmers over the past 100 years, we have had to fight for. This is something of which we can be proud.
“Let’s stick together as we move in to our next century.”