Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Edwin Poots has stated categorically that he wants to see the current level of support maintained for the various agricultural sectors, citing the critical role the industry will play in securing food production and climate action targets into the future.

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme today (August 26) Poots also made it clear that farmers in Northern Ireland now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to agree a bespoke set of support policies that meet their specific needs.

He said: “Farming in Northern Ireland employs 100,000 people directly. The industry also produces enough food to feed 10 million people, while also maintaining the fabric of so many small businesses in rural areas.

“We need to get a balance moving forward, which will allow agriculture to produce high quality food while, at the same time, meeting its climate change and environmental commitments.

“Making this happen will require farmers to be adequately supported into the future. Viability, from an agricultural perspective, must address the challenges of environmental sustainability and the future financial sustainability of farming businesses.”

Poots on marginal farming in NI

Poots also stated that marginal farming businesses must be supported into the future.

He strongly indicated that he remains in favour of direct payments being retained as a strong pillar of the farm support measures made available in Northern Ireland, irrespective of whatever happens in the rest of the UK.

He was joined on the programme by a number of farm organisation leaders. Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt stressed the need for farm support budgets to be retained, at the very least, at current levels, adding:

“Seismic change is coming with regard to the challenges facing agriculture in Northern Ireland. And, obviously, adopting to climate change is top of this agenda.

“The reality is that Northern Ireland enjoys the perfect climate in which to produce food. We are uniquely able to grow grass. And this tremendous advantage must be fully recognised as we look to the future.”

Meanwhile, William Taylor of Farmers for Action stressed the need for farmers to receive sustainable prices for their produce.

He said: “The supermarkets continue to pressurise food processers where prices are concerned. In turn, this pressure is passed on the farmer.

“But, of course, there is no-one that farmers can turn to when it comes to them finding a way to relieve this stress within their businesses.

“This is why Farmers for Action has introduced a Farm Welfare Bill at Stormont. If enacted, it will guarantee primary producers an inflation-linked price, covering their costs plus a realistic margin to live on,” he added.

“The measure will help to create 20,000 new jobs in rural areas while allowing farmers across Northern Ireland to respond more effectively to the challenge of climate change.”