Tea with May: Down farmer requests ‘end to calendar farming’

Co. Down dairy farmer Stephen Jackson couldn’t have gone much higher when he took the ‘calendar farming’ concerns of thousands of farmers directly to British Prime Minister Theresa May.

May had joined Jackson’s family around the kitchen table for lunch as part of her whistle-stop tour of the UK yesterday.

Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association director Conall Donnelly, Co. Down beef and sheep farmer Crosby Cleland and Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell also joined the discussion.

Also Read: Theresa May visit: See behind the scenes on the Co. Down farm…

An end to calendar farming

Host farmer Stephen Jackson from Bangor, Co. Down said: “She seemed quite intent listening. I know she’s a politician and you have to take it with a pinch of salt, but she did seem very genuine with us.

“We also told her about calendar farming – especially here – and how it just wasn’t working for us with the weather this year being too wet for hedge-cutting and putting slurry out.

We reckon we could do a better job protecting the environment – especially water courses – if the rules are made to suit the conditions we farm in rather than just set dates.

“It doesn’t make sense hanging us on and making us spread on wet land during all the rain when there’s times during the winter when it’s drier and we could be out safely doing no harm.

“When you are farming to a date farmers take risks – either environmentally or in terms of their own safety – to try and meet the deadline.”

Earlier this year, AgriLand revealed that an end to the calendar-based slurry ban had been recommended in a Northern Ireland government-commissioned report published more than a year and a half ago in October 2016. Little action has been taken to implement the recommendation.

Big issues

Theresa May spent 40 minutes talking to the family and farming representatives around the farmhouse’s kitchen table.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell said that other topics included the possibility of cheaper imports undermining local produce and green subsidies.

He said: “The Prime Minister gave us a good opportunity to put our views forward and gave us a good chunk of her time.

“The main areas of concern of course were access to export markets; labour – particularly for the processing sector; the issue of the border – and of no border in the Irish Sea; and that we could never accept cheap food imports.

It was pointed out that there is a £20 billion (€22.8 million) deficit in the UK trade balance and that if the UK’s food industry was allowed to step up to that it could wipe out £10 billion (€11.4 million) of that – so let’s go for it.

Bell added that he also told May future regulation needed to deliver outcomes rather than just adding more red tape for no reason.

Meanwhile, Crosby Cleland a sheep farmer from Ballynahinch, Co. Down said he wanted to get across the importance of export markets to sectors – just as the sheep industry.

“Cross-border trade is critical as is exports. Access to the French market is very important to the lamb trade here – if that was to disappear we would be in big trouble,” he said.