UFU assessing the best farm support options post-Brexit

The coming weeks will see the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) assess which farm support policies will best meet the needs of agriculture in Northern Ireland post Brexit, according to the organisation’s Chief Executive Wesley Aston.

“Our first objective is to ensure that we get a comparable level of support, in financial terms, as is currently the case,” he said.

“We can then look at how best the money can be used to meet the specific needs of local farmers.

“Our initial view would be that the support package must be efficiency linked. In other words it must be used to target agricultural production.”

Northern Ireland currently receives approximately €270m courtesy of the current Basic Payment Scheme.

But Aston is in no doubt that Scotland, in particular, will push to have a redistribution of the entire UK agri-support budget in a post-Brexit context.

And, if successful, this could lead to Northern Ireland losing out in proportionate terms.

“We are totally prepared to fight our corner on this matter,” he said.

Meanwhile, Union president Barclay Bell believes that a farm support scheme based on income insurance could be a hard sell in Northern Ireland.

“We are aware that ideas of this nature are currently under review in Whitehall. But the US model is the only parallel that we can look at in this regard,” he said.

“However, it only kicks in at times of complete crop failure or in the wake of some other catastrophic event.

Farmers in Northern Ireland are more likely to look at contract supply arrangements with processors as a means of coping with market volatility. But even this type of arrangement has been a hard sell up to now.

Union Deputy President Victor Chestnutt endorsed the principle of a production- based support model for agriculture in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

“This type of scheme should also be easier to sell to taxpayers,” he said.

“In reality, it represents a food support package, as opposed to a farm support measure.”