Ahead of the NI Assembly elections on 5 May, local politicians have told the Irish Farmers Journal where they stand on key issues related to farming.
The five main parties in NI were questioned about decisions that they could have influence over if an Executive is formed after the election.
Three questions were asked:
Full responses from each party are outlined below. A shortened version is available in this week’s NI edition of the Irish Farmers Journal.
1) Sinn Féin are broadly supportive of the general principles outlined by the TB strategic Partnership and acted upon by the Minister.
2) DAERA’s proposed Future Agriculture Policy did little to alleviate the concerns about the future of farming for many.
And, if the Minister had his way, no farm payment for nearly 5,000 small farmers (4,800) with less than 10ha.
Amid strong criticism led by Sinn Féin, DAERA rolled back on the plan to change the minimum claim size for single farm payments from the Minister's original proposal of 10ha down to 5ha. This could still impact many small farmers. It would also have an impact concerning rural planning in rural communities. We want the incoming agriculture minister to scrap plans to change the minimum claim size.
3) Legal advice was received stating that the Areas of Natural Constraint Bill could proceed. Sinn Féin will proceed with this in the new mandate.
1) The DUP has always taken the view that the long-standing approach to tackling TB has not worked and until a holistic approach is brought forward to include targeted wildlife intervention, we will not experience a meaningful reduction in bovine TB. This new approach announced by the Minister is to be welcomed and has been demonstrated to work in England and the Republic of Ireland.
The aim must be to reduce TB levels in cattle and wildlife and thereby reap the associated benefits of reduced stress and financial burden on farmers and removing barriers to future trade.
2) The DUP supports making farming more profitable, productive and sustainable going forward. The current proposals ensure productive farmers are rewarded and are not based on the land you hold. Efficiency, sustainability and in turn increasing profits through bespoke and targeted programmes, is a new feature in this policy and one which the industry has called for.
The policy importantly allows farm businesses the opportunity to transition to this new approach, meaning no sudden shocks to farm incomes. The policy also focuses on reducing red tape and ensuring cross compliance penalties are fit for purpose.
3) Farmers must be given support to sustain their businesses through the difficulties caused by the war in Ukraine. Farm gate prices must reflect the significant increases for inputs, or livelihoods will be at risk and production will decrease. Pressing for financial support from the Finance Minister and central government will also be important.
We want to see a replacement for the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), which is outcomes based and has meaning payment rates for environmentally delivery.
Providing meaningful solutions to our excess nutrient issues while improving farmers bottom lines should be a focus. Farmers can and should play an important role in producing sustainable energy, increasing carbon storage while producing food.
1) The UUP have consulted with environmentalists, farmers and vets over this issue and concluded, in an ideal situation, trap, test and vaccinate is the obvious choice to make, but the prevalence and consequences of bTB is much too serious to the farmer at present to consider this method. It is much too slow at present to bring about control of bTB, so therefore a targeted cull of badgers was prevalent in bTB hotspot areas.
2) Northern Ireland has a very unique farm structure, with very large farms that could provide for two families over two generations to small holdings of 30ac, which can only provide a very limited income that has to be supplemented by other work.
This future policy has tried to incorporate support for the farm families to help work towards environmental sustainability and improved resilience, with continued funding until 2024. This will also ensure that a start can be made to transition towards the necessary climate change regulations.
3) Issues around the Protocol, with the unrestricted movement of livestock and agricultural produce such as seed potatoes coming into Northern Ireland. There has also been no resolution on veterinary medicines - these need to be given the same status as human medicines.
Replacement of the Basic Payment System (BPS), with £250m for environmental measures and £50m for payments to suckler cows and beef and there must be extra support to include sheep in this BPS scheme.
Greater support will have to be made available for crop production, given the importance that it will play in the future agricultural policy.
To reduce emissions, there must be greater investment in scientific research and development, to assist agriculture in making its fair contribution towards the climate change policy.
1) The SDLP recognises the damage that bovine TB can do to a herd of cattle and the impact on the financial viability of a farm. There is still a lot of detail missing from the DAERA proposals, which appear to have been chosen based purely on minimising the cost to the Department. We believe that culling should only be used as a last resort and that it should be organised and controlled by the Department and focused on identifying hot spots of infection. It should also be time-limited with a quick return to a test, vaccinate or remove approach.
2) Following Brexit, Northern Irish farmers lost access to approximately €327m per annum of direct support provided from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The new agricultural policy seeks to replace that support framework. The SDLP supports the principle of an area-based payment to provide a basic safety net, but there is still a lot of work to be done designing appropriate measures and initiatives that both support farmers and protect and enhance the natural environment. The SDLP will work with the sector to develop detailed policies, with the objective of a resilient agri-food industry that promotes environmentally sustainable farming practices.
3) An immediate priority is the rising cost of fuel, animal feed and fertilisers, and finding a way to mitigate that cost. Additionally, the NI Climate Change Act has set challenging but achievable targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It includes a Just Transition Fund for Agriculture to provide incentives and advice to the agricultural sector to help it deliver its contribution, and a Just Transition Commission to support all sectors of our economy. An SDLP Agriculture Minister would ensure that Just Transition is central to all climate action plans and would make establishing these mechanisms a key priority.
1) Our opposition to widespread badger culling as part of the bovine TB eradication strategy is on public record. In recent years, badger culls have been implemented in other jurisdictions on these islands, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of healthy badgers. The culls have been highly contentious and divisive, both publicly and politically, and have had minimal impact on the prevalence of bovine TB in these countries.
I am therefore disappointed more ethical alternatives, such as badger vaccination and test and vaccinate or remove, have not been proposed in DAERA's strategy.
2) Mitigating and adapting to climate change is essential to support the productivity of farming businesses and support global food security. Those matters should be integral to any agricultural policy that comes forward at this time. I would like to see policy development to support the delivery of the agriculture sector’s contribution to net zero, which provides a multitude of adaptive benefits and action on enhancing resilience to the impacts of climate change.
It is important to note under the current structures, the Agriculture Minister also has responsibility for the Environment and Rural Affairs. It is important all policies, relevant to each of these separate business areas, compliment each other.
3) With around 25,000 farms in Northern Ireland, most of which are small and family run, Alliance is committed to supporting our farmers in embracing environmentally beneficial farming practices, reducing their carbon footprint and better using and protecting natural resources and biodiversity.
That commitment was outlined recently in the party's Green New Deal document, which describes the essential role farmers play in driving nature's recovery. Alongside colleagues, I’ve met the Ulster Farmers' Union on the matter, so I am acutely aware of the huge efforts already being made by farmers to tackle environmental challenges.
If the next Agriculture Minister was an Alliance MLA, we would work to further assist the sector transition and ensure a sustainable future for the sector.