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Farmers cannot be green when they are in the red, warns UFU in consultation response

Ulster Farmers' Union president, Ivor Ferguson. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

THE Ulster Farmers' Union has said the north's agriculture policy post-Brexit must support active farm businesses to be productive and sustainable, while delivering public goods.

Speaking as the UFU submitted its response to DAERA's consultation on Northern Ireland's future agriculture policy, president, Ivor Ferguson said there is a "once in a life time opportunity to create a policy that ensures we have a productive, profitable, and progressive farming industry".

"Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has been clear about his vision to support environmental measures, but farmers can't be green when they are financially in the red," Mr Ferguson continued.

The UFU president said that by focusing on delivering “public goods” in relation to the environment, there is the danger that the crucial importance of food security and standards is being lost.

“Food production must be at the heart of agricultural policy, both at a UK level and in Northern Ireland. If a farm business is not profitable, it's not viable and will not be able to deliver the ‘public good' the government is looking for.”

The UFU response, issued on behalf of over 11,500 farming families, covers a range of issues and outlines key measures that Government should enact to help the farming sector thrive in the coming, potentially turbulent, years.

The UFU argues funding for agriculture must be at least maintained at the current level of existing support and that the types of trade deals secured by the UK post-Brexit will determine what level of direct support farmers will need.

“For years, direct payments from the EU have effectively acted as a cheap food subsidy, benefiting consumers. This is where the majority of farm income in Northern Ireland comes from. A drastic change from this system without adequate time to plan, would lead to cliff-edge scenario for many farms,” Mr Ferguson said.

In recognising the major changes ahead, Mr Ferguson called for flexibility in relation for the different UK regions.

"Farming in the south of England is different from farming on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Our local policy must suit our needs.”

He also highlighted the lack of a devolved government as an "extra challenge" to Brexit preparations

“We need our local politicians to get back to work. Responding to this consultation is all well and good but now it will sit with civil servants. It is unclear what decisions can be taken and what can be implemented while we continue to have no government at Stormont,” the UFU president added.

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