The long term prospects for Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry are good but we need our young farmers to lead in shaping the sector’s future.
That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen on Saturday when she addressed the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) conference.
Speaking at the conference in Cookstown, Miss McIlveen said: “There is no doubt we are in a period of uncertainty, however, I do believe that the long term prospects for our agri-food industry are good. You are our leaders of tomorrow and I know you will be inspired to strive to be the best that you can be and realise all your ambitions.”
The second annual YCFU agri-conference, entitled “Inspire” aimed at helping delegates identify the opportunities as they plan the future of their own farm businesses. The event covered all areas of the agri-business sector and addressed issues including: market prospects, the future support needs of the industry and the necessity to improve technical efficiency levels at farm level.
Miss McIlveen told the delegates: “I recognise the contribution the YFCU makes to our rural community. It is a dynamic organisation which champions the needs of our young, rural people and that is why I am delighted my Department continues to provide financial support. It is important to ensure that our farming industry and rural communities benefit from the skills, enterprise, confidence, values and citizenship developed by young people through the YFCU.
“Our two-year funding package enables you to offer a wider range of agri-food, educational and socio-economic activities, as well as encouraging involvement and commitment to education and training.”
On the issue of Land Mobility, the Minister said: “It is clear that we have an ageing farming population and a large proportion of our farming businesses have not identified a successor.
“This is a highly emotive and personal issue for many. I met with your President and representatives from the UFU to discuss progression of the Land Mobility Scheme. I am very supportive of this initiative and we are currently exploring the options that may be available to my Department that could support the implementation of the scheme.”
In a wide-ranging speech, the Minister went on to outline to the conference some of her key priorities during her time in office and encouraged delegates to participate in shaping their future.
She said: “One of our top priorities has been to oversee the continued strengthening of our indigenous agri-food industry and ensure its future for young people like you.
“The UK’s exit from the EU represents an unprecedented and exciting opportunity for us all, and particularly young farmers like you seeking to develop a future career in the industry.
“Change provides us with significant opportunities such as the ability to develop a future agricultural policy better suited to our needs and one that will provide for and secure long term sustainability.”
The Minister concluded: “I would encourage you, as the next generation of farmers, to fully engage in the process of developing those policies and in shaping your future and our industry.”