A deputation from the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) made history this week when they met with members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee for the first time in London to discuss a wide range of policy-related issues.
The group was headed-up by the organisation’s president James Speers. He was joined by YFCU agriculture committee chairman William Beattie and committee members Jessica Pollock and Robert Keatley.
James Speers said: “Our core objective is to ensure that the support measures introduced for young farmers by way of the last review of the Common Agricultural Policy are maintained, once the UK leaves the European Union.
“In fact, we believe that these measures should be strengthened.”
Recent months have seen the YFCU undertake a comprehensive survey on Brexit, involving the broad cross-section of its members.
James Speers again: “We had the opportunity of relating the results of the survey while in London. Brexit policies must be developed to allow young farmers to play their part in a more effective manner within their industry.”
“In practical terms this means that a support budget must be put in place by the UK government to meet the needs of young farmers going forward.”
The YFCU president said that future support funding must be directed at those farmers who actually produce food.
“We also need to see greater transparency with the farming and food chain. Farmers producing what the market wants must get a larger proportion of the monies coming in at the retail end.
“Complying with Red Tractor and Farm Quality Assurance Standards required a significant investment on the part of the farmers committing to these schemes. It is only right and proper then that the farmers in question should get a realistic return from the marketplace.”
He added:“There is an ongoing need to put in place training and education and opportunities that will allow young farmers to improve the efficiency of their businesses.
“They also need access to land. We stressed the role of the new Land Mobility Programme as a way of making this happen.”
The visit to London was sponsored by EFRA Committee member David Simpson MP. He said: “The YFCU is doing a tremendous job in promoting the needs of young farmers in Northern Ireland. The discussions in London centred on the forms of support that will be made available to agriculture in Northern Ireland, post-Brexit.
“The good news is that the government is committed to providing direct, monetary support to farmers. This point was made quite clearly by Secretary of State Michael Gove when he recently gave evidence to the EFRA committee.
“But I have a major issue with the very strong focus that has been placed on environmental measures by the government.
“The fact is that farm families have been the custodians of the countryside for generations. And this will never change. It is in every farmer’s interest to maintain his land in the best possible condition.”
Simpson confirmed that EFRA committee chairman Neil Parish MP will be visiting this year’s Balmoral Show.
“A follow-up meeting with the YFCU will be held at that time,” he concluded.