Progress to deliver Strategy Board blueprint essential, says UFU

Tuesday, 11 October, 2016

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has called for a greater drive to secure faster delivery of the Agri-food Strategy Board plans for the future of the industry. UFU president, Barclay Bell, said more than three years after the first recommendations were made, Northern Ireland remained in danger of being out-performed in terms of vision by its competitors in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

Article key points

  • UFU has called for greater drive for faster delivery of the Agri-Food Strategy Board plans. 
  • It's been more than three years since the first recommendations were made and Northern Ireland is in danger of being out-performed by competitors.
  • Success of Strategy Board has been that it involves the entire industry making it alarming and disappointing that the Board Chairman recently said that NI only needed 6000 farmers.
  • UFU strongly disagrees with this view and believes it's unfair to write off more than 20,000 farms in NI.
  • Family farming structure is the backbone of our industry and rural communities should be supported.
  • A properly functioning supply chain, offering transparency, a serious commitment to address the NI/G price differential, and where all partners were profitable would inevitably strengthen the entire industry. 
  • Emphasis should be on delivering the AFSB's main theme of a single integrated supply chain rather than focusing on an arbitrary number of farmers.

“I recognise that drawing up and then driving forward a plan for an entire industry is not easy.  But it is a challenge to which others have risen.  We cannot allow our ideas to end up bogged down by a lack of Government action to make them succeed,” said Mr Bell.  He added that this was all the more important in the context of Brexit, and could be one of the key deciders of the success or otherwise of leaving the European Union.

“As things now stand we have a golden opportunity to significantly develop markets.  Thanks to the weakening of sterling, food export fortunes have improved dramatically and imports are much less attractive as our competitors in the eurozone for the UK market have taken a huge hit to their competitive position.  Now is when we should be pushing home that advantage – and having a fully backed plan in place would allow us to really gain from these conditions,” said Mr Bell.

The UFU president added that one of the successes of the Strategy Board had been that it involved the entire industry.  The focus, he said, had been on improvements in production, processing and selling, making it alarming and extremely disappointing that the Board Chairman had recently told the Assembly that Northern Ireland only needed 6000 farmers who could produce high volumes of food competitively on a global marketplace.

“We do not agree with this view,” said Mr Bell. “You cannot simply write off more than 20,000 farms in Northern Ireland. The family farming structure is the backbone of our industry, many smaller and part time farmers work very hard and still run efficient and profitable businesses. They are not only essential to maintaining the environment and countryside people want to see but they are also an integral part of a successful local food chain,” said Mr Bell.

“If we had a properly functioning supply chain, which offered transparency, a serious commitment to address the NI/GB price differential, and where all partners are profitable this would inevitably strengthen our entire industry. We believe it would be better to put the emphasis on the delivery of the AFSB's main theme of a single integrated supply chain rather than focusing on an arbitrary number of farmers,” said Mr Bell.