Latest developments from rural affairs committee

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UFU rural affairs policy officer Kate Cairns provides an update from the UFU rural affairs policy committee.

At the recent committee AGM, Joy Rollston was re-elected as Committee Chair. Current issues for the committee include:

Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend 2017: This was another bumper success with nearly 17,000 visitors on the 16 participating farms. The aim of Open Farm Weekend is to get non farming public onto real working farms to understand exactly what goes into producing our food. It is clear that the initiative is gathering huge momentum so planning is already starting for the 2018 event. Special thanks go to all the participating farms that do a tremendous job.

Primary School Resource: With big changes on the horizon for industry, it has never before been more important to educate the next generation of consumers about the importance of our agri-food industry. The UFU have teamed up with Agri Aware in Dublin to create a version of their primary school resource for schools in NI. The resource contains a series of class plans linked to the curriculum. School packs will be posted out to all nursery, primary and special schools in NI shortly.

Strategic Area Plan for School Provision 2017-2020: The committee discussed the Education Authorities first regional area plan which names individual schools and makes specific recommendations. It identifies about 40 schools where sustainability is questioned but any decision to close or merge schools would be subject to consultation. The UFU have always been concerned that government use the minimum enrolment figure of 105 pupils (as outlined in the 2007 Bain report). This disadvantages rural schools that are small and successful and meet the needs of rural communities. The committee felt, in the absence of an Education Minister, it will be a waiting game. Some of the recommended actions for schools will be impossible for them to achieve and it is disappointing that the Education Authority does not seem to recognise the importance of rural schools.

Home to School Transport: The UFU wrote to the Education Authority to outline concerns regarding proposals to charge for home to school transport. Whilst the Education Authority are considering there are no plans to implement changes for September 2017.Any change to existing policy would require Ministerial approval and public consultation.

Sustainable Farm Safety Action Plan: The new farm safety action plan is due to be launched soon. It will build on the successes of the previous plans and will also move farm safety awareness and behavioural change to the next level. The new plan will start to explore the effect of health, in particular how stress impacts on a person’s ability to stay safely focused on the job in hand.

The committee will continue to lobby and discuss issues that affect farm families in NI.