Northern Ireland (NI) Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has met with Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, at Westminster to discuss some of the current issues affecting the Northern Ireland agri-food industry.
During the meeting, discussions centred around the ongoing problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol and labour shortages currently experienced within the pork sector; as well as the possible introduction of tax relief to encourage farmers to engage in longer term leasing of land, and the latest on the situation with regards to Avian Influenza.
Speaking following the meeting, Minister Poots said: “I was pleased to meet George Eustice to impress upon him the issues facing the agri-food industry here and how important the sector is to all who are involved within it.
“I once again took the opportunity to stress the difficulties the NI Protocol is having on our sector and how unworkable in practice it is in its current form.
“The friction-free movement of goods and animals between GB and NI is one of the corner stones of our economy and the current requirements of the Protocol place an unnecessary burden on the industry. I am therefore again urging Mr. Eustice to work alongside Lord Frost and the EU to find a workable, permanent solution.”
The two ministers also discussed the issue of the shortages of butchers and food processing workers within the pig sector in Northern Ireland.
Commenting, Minister Poots said: “We must find a workable solution to the current labour issues faced by Northern Ireland in this sector.
“It is vital that we are able to operate on a level playing field with competitors and whilst the government announcement of 800 temporary visas of six months duration for butchers to work in the pig processing sector is helpful, I believe this falls well short of what is needed to alleviate the problem. Challenges remain and farmers need urgent clarity.”
Minister Poots also discussed the suggestion of longer term land leases and tax relief for farmers.
“On Northern Ireland farms the conacre system of land rental is the most prevalent,” he said.
“These short-term arrangements result in farmers who rent land generally being reluctant to invest in soil fertility or environmental performance because they have no security of tenure.
“For this reason, I am suggesting that consideration be given to a new UK-wide income tax relief that would encourage the long-term leasing of farmland for periods of five years or more.
“It is more important than ever that we achieve environmental enhancement and productivity gains in our agricultural sector and this would encourage long-term leasing agreements that will give farmers the certainty they require to make investments in rented land.”
Finally, Minister Poots also gave an update on the current situation regarding Avian Influenza across the British Isles, saying:
“This devastating disease can have a terrible impact on the poultry industry. It adds complexity to existing poultry meat supply chains, as a result of the disease control measures throughout these islands, which is further exacerbated by an increased demand at this time of year.
“In June 2020, the market value of all NI poultry was estimated at £298 million, this sector has been expanding over the past number of years and has been vital to our local economy.
“It is therefore imperative that all protective measures are taken to try to prevent a further spread of this disease.”