There is a stark contrast between Government support in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland for Agri-Food industry growth according to the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU).

Following the long awaited publication of the Northern Ireland Executive’s response to the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report, Ulster Farmers’ Union President Ian Marshall said it is good news that the Executive’s response has finally been officially signed off but it is very disappointing that it has taken nearly 18 months to get to this point. “It is especially frustrating given that the ROI has just announced its overall budget, which includes a number of strategic and meaningful support measures that will help to boost the agriculture industry there.

“There appears to be a stark contrast in the way the Republic’s Department of Agriculture and Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture are approaching the support of their respective agriculture industries. It is very clear that despite the continued financial difficulties being experienced in the Republic, the Government there are still very supportive of their agri-food industry and are working strategically to secure ways to help the industry develop and grow.

“Despite reduced national funding available, the strategic use of EU funding by the Republic has resulted in a 2% increase in spending by their Department of Agriculture in 2015. More importantly it is the use to which this funding is to be put that is the crucial issue.”

He said that substantial support has been earmarked for schemes which will help improve the efficiency of production across a wide range of sectors. Support schemes for the particularly vulnerable beef sector include a Beef Genomics Scheme which will deliver €100 per cow for almost 300,000 suckler breeding cows along with funding for a Beef Data and Efficiency Programme, and additional support for a Beef Quality Assurance Scheme and for Beef Promotion. Also, a significant ‘one-off’ farm safety scheme is to be introduced. These initiatives coupled with taxation changes, which will help to facilitate the restructuring of farm businesses, clearly demonstrate that the Government in the Republic is taking a strategic approach to the development of its agri-food industry.

“Against this background it is very disappointing that things have played out very differently here in Northern Ireland with agriculture subject to delays in decision making and restrictions on budgets as a result of wider political disagreements. Genuine opportunities to grow our industry do exist but unless a different approach is taken by our own Department of Agriculture these will not be realised to the extent to which they could and should be.”