DUP MEP Diane Dodds comments on the challenges facing farmers right across the Province at this difficult time.
Farmers across Northern Ireland face many challenges. These range from volatile prices to additional regulations from both the supply chain and Government.
There is no doubt that these challenges cause problems for the majority of farmers as they carry out their daily jobs. The weather however causes the greatest challenge. This year, the prolonged wet spell from the middle of July has caused real problems for many famers, particularly in the north and west of Northern Ireland, in keeping their livestock at grass, getting their silage and grain harvested and emptying their slurry tanks in advance of the closed period for the spreading of organic manures.
This week I have held discussions with the Permanent Secretary of DAERA at which I raised the plight that many farmers are facing throughout Northern Ireland. I welcome the announcement from the Department that under exceptional circumstances, a limited amount of slurry can be spread during the closed period. I would urge farmers to ensure that before they spread any slurry during the closed period that they could demonstrate to NIEA that they have taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation. I hope that the weather conditions do improve that will allow farmers to salvage what is left of their crops.
In Brussels I am glad that my lobbing of Commissioner Hogan has been successful and that DAERA can pay a 70% advance of single farm payments. I hope that by this time next week, the vast majority of farmers throughout Northern Ireland will have received their payments. This year, the vast majority of farmers completed their application forms online. This should have helped minimise the number of errors on forms and result in more farmers receiving payments next week. It is vital that farmers who have had their land checked via remote sensing are not penalised for these inspections through delays to payments.
Over the last number of weeks, discussions between the UK Government and Brussels have intensified over the terms of Brexit. Over the coming months there are many important issues that need to be worked through to ensure that an arrangement is put in place that suits both UK farmers and farmers throughout the rest of the EU.
I believe that common sense will eventually prevail as no agreement will have a far more detrimental impact on beef farmers in the Republic of Ireland, wine growers in France and flower growers in Holland when compared to farmers in Northern Ireland. In coming to an arrangement with the Conservatives following the last election, the DUP ensured that the Government would continue to put the same amount of funding towards agriculture, as it currently receives from Europe, up to the end of this Parliament. I welcome the fact that the DEFRA Minister Michael Gove has also confirmed that Northern Ireland will still receive the same share of the UK agricultural spend going forward.
Over recent months, many reports have raised concerns about the UK doing free trade with other regions of the world. I do however fear that the EU is about to do a deal with South American countries that would allow for a significant uplift in the amount of cheap beef coming into the EU and in particular the UK.
I will continue to argue to ensure that the interests of our Northern Ireland beef and lamb sectors are projected both when we are in and out of the EU.