Agriculture Bill upholds continuation of support post-Brexit
Ivor Ferguson, president, UFU.
Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has welcomed a provision within the Agriculture Bill regarding the legal basis for continuation of support at UK and regional levels, following the UK’s departure from the EU. The funding will remain in place until a new regional agricultural support policy for Northern Ireland is determined.
UFU President Ivor Ferguson spoke at the House of Commons last week voicing his concerns about the bill which will determine the future of the agriculture industry post Brexit.
“Speaking on behalf of the UFU at Westminster, I highlighted that ultimately the future format of support for the Northern Ireland agri industry will depend on the outcome of future trade deals with the EU or other countries,” he said. “If good deals are secured, farmers may not need more support than they receive at present although the delivery format of this support could change.
“If trade deals are agreed that undermine the industry and the situation is created where NI farmers are undercut by food producers operating in other countries to lower production standards, they will need much more support to keep their businesses viable. I stressed that ‘resilience support’ will have to be an integral part of possible future support measures as well as the prospect of introducing fiscal incentives on land tenure to increase investment to improve land.”
A pledge has not been made within the Agriculture Bill to safeguard UK food production standards.
“We have a world-class reputation for food production upholding the highest food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards and our farmers need the support of Government to continue producing quality food,” said Ferguson. “It is essential for provisions to be added that will prevent food produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK being imported. If we were to allow products produced to a lower standard into the UK market it would be devastating for our beef farmers who are already struggling to make ends meet. Our beef industry lost £36m from November 2018 to October 2019 and this does not take into consideration rising production costs.
“The Agriculture Bill currently commits to a report on UK food security at least once in every five years. Supporting sustainable and profitable food production must underpin the UK’s future agriculture policy and I emphasised that the report needs to be more frequent. Particularly during the initial period of transition to new trading arrangements and future format of agricultural support.
“The UK cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to food security. Farmers across the UK strive daily to produce the high quality, safe, delicious, and affordable food that consumers expect to see on supermarket shelves. The UK must continue to ensure farmers are supported to allow this to persist. Transparency and fairness in the supply chain is also an essential element within the bill and while we welcome the proposed measures to increase this for farmers and food producers, it needs to be strengthened and clarified to gain the widest scope.”
Ferguson also raised the need for tracking agricultural support in the Republic of Ireland under the NI/ROI Protocol which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the withdrawal agreement.
“We were pleased that the withdrawal agreement took into consideration the current political situation in Northern Ireland,” he said. “The level of support payments given to agriculture in ROI must be tracked and matched so that NI’s competitiveness in the all-island economy is maintained.”
UFU will continue to liaise with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and lobby Government to protect and enhance the future viability of NI’s family farms and agri businesses.