Many NI farmers voted to leave the EU because they were fed up with all the rules and regulations that emanated from Brussels, and against a backdrop of promises from various politicians that they would be freed from red tape in a new post-Brexit era.
What a lie that has turned out to be. Rather than a new period of light touch regulation, we are actually living through a period of more rules, regulations and inspections.
As reported in last weeks’ edition, the number of cross compliance inspections undertaken by DAERA has increased from 1,242 in 2020 to 1,989 in 2022. Over the same timeframe, the number of rule breaches has nearly trebled.
But there is much more coming at farmers than simply the threat of losing a percentage of their farm payment. The rules and requirements to meet quality assurance standards only ever seem to go one way, with the bar lifted at each scheme review. On top of that is the roll out of carbon audits which inevitably will add significant time and complexity to a farm inspection.
Meanwhile, NI is going through a period of record TB infection, which means more testing of cattle on farms and more unwanted hassle for farmers.
Into the mix has stepped forward the Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI) with an eight-month campaign focused on farm vehicles such as quads and telehandlers, with the threat of enforcement action if farmers don’t have the proper training in place.
So much of all this is well-intentioned and none of us can defend bad practice around animal welfare, the environment or health and safety.
But has anyone in a position of authority thought to step back for a moment and consider the collective pressure all these rules, regulations and inspections are putting on farmers. As an industry, we have endured one of the worst summers on record, and watched on while prices in many of our main commodities have fallen below the cost of production. Those two stressors are already significant, without adding any more.