Arable & horticulture update

Friday, 16 July, 2021

Commodity watch by senior policy officer Patricia Erwin

 Future is bright for arable & horticulture

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) in partnership with the Ulster Arable Society (UAS) commissioned a recent report to review, analyse and recommend support instruments that will ensure a future and help develop sustainable production methods for our local vegetable, potato and cereal sectors. 

Ian Duff was appointed as the report facilitator and upon receipt of an ambitious terms of reference, he navigated, co-ordinated, collected and analysed the sectors input alongside the wider supply chain, government and non-governmental organisation’s contributions. The review was led by highly respected industry representatives, UAS chairman Bruce Steele, alongside Robert Moore on cereals, David McElrea on potatoes and Roy Lyttle for vegetables. All consulted widely and inclusively with their respective UFU committee members.      

Whilst it was a difficult and challenging time for the industry in the midst of this review dealing also with Brexit and the unintended consequences of the Northern Ireland Protocol, this may have helped focus some discussion on specific needs and opportunities for all three sectors. 

The UAS and UFU supported this review on behalf of their respective members, and the report can be found on both the UAS and UFU websites.

The UFU vegetable committee continue to be pro-active and have positively and confidently embraced every opportunity to represent local vegetable growers.  Chairman Adrian McGowan and vice-chair Roy Lyttle supported by UFU deputy president William Irvine, recently participated in two events organised by the Food Foundation / PeasPlease hosted locally by NI GoodFood. This was a positive platform for professionals with one aim about how best to raise the profile and true worth of horticulture produce, whilst sharing experiences and learning from each other.  

Building on the recently completed review of the sector, the vegetable committee are now actively progressing the need for a 10-year action plan. Currently two other issues that are high on the committee’s agenda include under cost of production selling in some retail and the need for continued access to plant protection products now and in the longer term.   

The UFU potato committee continue to deal with the loss of diquat and have recently written to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots for his guidance and support for the industry on the matter. The committee called for another processing potato support COVID-19 package for the sector. Many growers we understand have registered an expression of interest and the official on-line application process will roll out very soon. The UFU will continue to review the situation.

Access to labour, and in particular access to seasonal agricultural workers, remains a high concern. The UFU have been in discussions with government and industry representatives, the UFU are monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

The UFU have facilitated industry discussions about cereal seed availability for autumn planting, with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The UFU have called again on DAERA and DEFRA to communicate with the industry allowing time so all can understand the legislative requirements and logistical time-lines necessary for seed to be delivered from GB into NI on time. This is under review.  

The UFU have been advised of a shortage in availability of propionic acid for the 2021 crop. The UFU encourage cereal growers to plan ahead, discuss and agree with their own supply chain all acceptable alternative options available.