UFU leaders give evidence on new Agriculture Bill

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has told MPs there is scope in the draft UK Agriculture Bill for Northern Ireland to develop its own post-Brexit agricultural policy and to allow, in the absence of a local Executive, the status quo to continue until a new policy direction can be established.

UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, and chief executive, Wesley Aston, told the Agriculture Bill Committee in Westminster that, at a UK level, key issues need more legal certainty.

“These include the standard of imported food, longer term funding for agriculture and the effective operation of the agri-food supply chain. We also stressed that future support arrangements must reflect final decisions on trade relationships with the EU-27 and the rest of the world,” said Mr Ferguson.

The UFU made the case at Westminster to regionalise Northern Ireland in policy decisions.

“We are a small, flexible, region with strong collaboration between farmers, their suppliers, processors and environmental groupings. This must be reflected in how post-Brexit policies will be implemented in Northern Ireland,” said the UFU president.

The UFU is keen to see new ideas piloted, including ways to encourage more young farmers into the industry. It also wants to see the issue of land tenure tackled.

“We need more investment to improve land, and the current model does not encourage that. We want to see fiscal incentives so that these issues can then be properly addressed in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Ferguson.

“We are now entering a time of unprecedented change which presents a one-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of Northern Ireland agriculture. The UFU has a vision of a productive, progressive, sustainable and most importantly profitable farming sector and we want to work with the Government and other industry partners to realise this,” said Mr Ferguson.

A move away from conacre to longer term land use arrangements has long been identified as a crucial development in helping to improve farm productivity in Northern Ireland while, at the same time, giving younger farmers an opportunity to get their foot on the ladder of a fulfilling career within production agriculture.

This has led to the setting up of the Land Mobility Programme, jointly organised by the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and the UFU. It is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). The programme is headed up by John McCallister.

He said: “As project manager I am responsible for the promotion of land and enterprise mobility, through collective arrangements such as partnerships, shared farming agreements and leases between younger farmers and older landowners.

“Both the YFCU and UFU are confident this scheme will benefit both older and younger farming generations by matching people to opportunities.”