‘Everyone wants to be more environmentally responsible; but we have to keep our farmers farming’

Every farmer wants to do more for the environment, but future farming policy must prioritise supporting efficient and profitable production, Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Ivor Ferguson told farmers in Co. Antrim.

“We accept regulation – regulation is here to stay – but it must be proportionate and it must be sustainable,” he said, speaking at the UFU Roadshow in Ballymena.

“This needs to be a work in progress – not a shutdown of our industry, as appears to be the case at the minute.

“Refusing farm business investment schemes could actually be more harmful to the environment in many respects.

The general public and our NGOs need to realise farmers need to be profitable; otherwise environmental aspirations go out the window – it’s hard to be green when you’re in the red.

It comes less than two weeks after Defra secretary Michael Gove announced the future of UK farm subsidies was to be linked to environmental protection measures.

At Monday night’s meeting, a significant proportion of the audience raised their hand when asked if they wanted to carry out more environmental work, but felt that the cost and a lack of guidance was holding them back.

‘We can’t ignore this’

“You’d nearly think we had some kind of insight into what Michael Gove was going to say in his speech,” Ferguson joked, referring to the theme of the roadshow – ‘Farming and the environment’.

“This is the clearest indication yet of the direction of the future of UK agriculture policy, so we can’t ignore this.

“There has to be a mutual understanding; the environment doesn’t belong to us as farmers and it doesn’t belong to the general public either. We are all in this together.

We are farmers; we want to get on and farm; we want to produce food for the nation. We have to keep our farmers farming.

“We are farmers; we’re not park-keepers. We cannot have an imbalance towards environmental measures. We cannot have environmental regulation stopping us from being efficient.

“The fact is that there is change coming and we need to start thinking about what it will mean for all our businesses going forward.

“Of course there’s a future for farming and change is the way of life; I believe there’s a great future for farming – we have 65 million people on our doorstep in GB and they all need feeding.”