To inform future policy development, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has suggested that there is a need for debate within the industry about the enterprises best suited to particular land types.

Outlining various options to UFU members at the organisation’s AGM last Wednesday, Minister Poots said he had no “preconceived notion” about the outcome.

“The hills can only do sucklers and sheep, whereas the lowland has greater options for beef finishing, dairy and cereal growing, as well as beef and sheep,” he pointed out.

He said that the use of sexed semen in the dairy herd is potentially a “game changer” that will mean less dairy bull calves will be sent for export, leaving more beef-bred dropped calves available locally for farmers to take to finish.

“If we have higher numbers of animal coming through, do we need as many suckler cows, and is the size of the suckler herd sustainable?” he asked.

The Minister also reminded UFU members that he has a budget of around £300m in direct payments to allocate each year. If money is to be found for a new Area of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme for farmers in the Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA), it will have to come off other farmers.

“That is why I am resistant to the ANC issue. The lowland farmers, who actually have a lower income than less favoured areas, would be disproportionately affected” said the Minister.

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