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Agriculture Minister outlines Brexit benefits at Oxford Farming Conference

Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen pictured during a recent visit to Saintfield mart to engage with farmers
Gail Bell

BREXIT will represent an "unprecedented" opportunity for the north's agri-food industry, Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen told the Oxford Farming Conference in England.

Addressing an audience of farmers and agriculture leaders from across Britain, she said her aim was to promote a "sustainable, competitive, high performing, knowledge-based" agri-food sector that was both prosperous and compliant.

"That means it will be more resilient to shocks and challenges, have high standards of animal health and welfare, deliver for the environment and have increased market access." she said.

“Brexit represents an unprecedented and exciting opportunity for Northern Ireland. We are, undoubtedly, in uncharted waters, but this provides us with significant opportunities such as the ability to develop a future agricultural policy framework better suited to local needs."

The minister said a new policy framework would also provide for long term sustainability and remove "unnecessary bureaucracy" associated with current arrangements.

"It is quite clear that we are not going to have a system like the one we currently have," she said.

"But why copy a system heavy on regulations and penalties that is not working for many farmers? Leaving the EU creates the opportunity to develop something different."

Miss McIlveen made it clear that she will work diligently to promote and protect the needs of agriculture in Northern Ireland.

"As a region, Northern Ireland will look for some type of flexibility because as a region we are unique," she added.

"Our agri-food sector is much more important to the local economy than is the case in the other parts of the United Kingdom. Future trade and support arrangements will be vital to the future prospects of our industry."

The Minister, who joined a panel discussion with political representatives from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, told delegates that any change in support mechanisms would need to involve a "period of transition", but the Northern Ireland Executive would "play its part" to ensure the best deal for farmers, producers and fishermen.

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