New Year message from UFU President Ian Marshall

Thursday, 1 January, 2015

A New Year message from the Ulster Farmers’ Union President Ian Marshall:

Since becoming President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union last April, several issues have dominated the Union’s agenda. 2014 was the defining year for the reformed Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) with the big decisions on how to implement it here in Northern Ireland finally being made; however, it will be some time before we can fully appreciate the far reaching and long lasting implications these decisions will have for our agri-food industry. There were always going to be winners and losers under the new CAP and the one positive those facing hefty losses can take away is that at least they have a seven year transition period to allow them to adapt their businesses. The UFU strongly support the well-developed plans laid out in the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report to grow and develop our agri-food industry, however, the new CAP looks to be more of a hindrance than a help to these plans. The focus of the new CAP has been a shift away from its core function of producing food with highly productive farmers losing significant amounts of their direct payment. These farmers will have to face tough decisions and it is likely that changes to businesses will be significant. It is probable that Northern Ireland will see a contraction in production, which flies in the face of the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s plans for growth and development, and while it is possible that those who have made gains under the new CAP will increase their production capacity, it is highly doubtful that this will be enough to counter the reduced production from those who are losing.

Farm gate price volatility has also been a major issue across all sectors in 2014. Throughout the year we have intensely lobbied processors and retailers to highlight farmers concerns, reiterating time and time again that this price volatility is totally unsustainable and that for the supply chain to function properly all partners need to be profitable. Farmer profitability has been my number one concern since becoming President and while there have been events completely out with our control, such as the Russian ban, I believe processors and retailers can do far more to ensure ALL their suppliers are treated fairly. A well functioning single supply chain, where all partners are profitable, will be of benefit to the entire agri-food industry as it will ensure the viability of farm businesses and ensure that processors and retailers have a consistent supply of the local, high quality raw materials their consumers demand.

Looking ahead to 2015, we will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the budget cuts proposed for the NI Executive’s Government Departments. We have already expressed our serious concern that rural services will bear the brunt of these cuts and in particular have stressed that any cuts to DARD’s budget must not impact on frontline services for farmers. Following our recent discussions with the new EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, we have high hopes that 2015 will see the start of a process to bring some much needed simplification to the new CAP. Work will also continue with NIEA around improving working relationships on the ground and we hope to be able to make an announcement about the significant progress we have already made in early 2015. The UFU remains a committed member of Northern Ireland’s Farm Safety Partnership and we will be doing our part to help raise awareness about farm safety and to progress the points outlined in the second action plan. Finally, farmer profitability remains a top issue on the UFU’s busy agenda and we will continue our campaign to ensure farmers are paid a fair price for what they produce. With the challenges posed by the newly reformed CAP, farmers will be looking for a better return from the market in order to keep their businesses viable. Never has a single supply chain that delivers profitability for everyone involved been more important. Despite many obstacles, there is a willingness and appetite from the farming community to play their part in delivering the recommendations in the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report. Time and time again farmers have demonstrated their resilience and adaptability and I’m sure we will see it again during 2015.

Finally, I would just like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a peaceful, safe and prosperous New Year and I am looking forward to working with all of our UFU members in the months ahead.”