UFU responds to DAERA Science Strategy Framework public consultation

Tuesday, 29 October, 2019

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the need for an NI Science Strategy Framework is undeniable, but the approach must be more balanced.

The comments were made after the UFU submitted its response to DAERA’s consultation on a newly proposed Science Strategy Framework.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said, “With the UK preparing to leave the EU, the importance of the scientific evidence DAERA uses to support policy development and underpin statutory requirements has increased. Their consultation enables the UFU, and other stakeholders, to voice our opinion on whether we consider the Science Strategy Framework to be relevant and appropriate for the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland.

“The strategy that DAERA has proposed needs to have a finer balance. The remit within the document appears to be extremely broad which could cause high levels of bureaucracy and become an administrative burden. We would encourage that any science strategy going forward be more proactive.”

The UFU is concerned that the document does not mention what DAERA wants the Northern Ireland agri-food industry to look like in the future regarding scientific needs.

“There needs to be a greater focus on innovation within the agriculture industry, not a major concentration on DAERA policy objectives. It does deliver DAERA strategy objectives, but it needs to go further, to be pioneering and informative whilst delivering for the farming industry and the department’s vision. DAERA’s strategy should be stakeholder led and in terms of research commissioning, DAERA have very little external influencing. It is the UFU’s view that DAERA should include both stakeholders and experts.

“Another worry is that the framework doesn’t discuss how this work will be communicated. Knowledge transfer is key both externally and internally within DAERA, it is vital to get the correct message out on the ground,” said Mr Ferguson.

The UFU have used the consultation to highlight research facilities which are unfit for purpose. Mr Ferguson said, “The UFU have contacted DAERA on numerous occasions regarding rundown research facilities and we’re finding the slow progress of developments for the new beef facilities at AFBI Hillsborough, somewhat frustrating. We’re aware that planning has been in the pipeline for several years, but it hasn’t developed any further. The new proposed facilities would be a boost for the beef sector in NI encouraging knowledge transfer, improving education and allowing the sector to thrive. We’re keen to see this project proceed with some urgency.”

The UFU and it’s members recognise that Brexit provides opportunities for Northern Ireland’s farming industry. The correct science strategy would support farming families to avail of new openings. 

“We must use the situation we are currently facing to create the conditions for a productive, resilient and sustainable agricultural sector. We need to meet the expectations of the UK countryside by contributing to productive and robust economic growth. This science strategy framework response provides an opportunity to help us meet these ambitions. The response from the UFU provides recommendations on key measures which the Government should enact to help ensure our farming sector thrives in the potentially turbulent years to come through science,” said the UFU president.