Farming throughout the UK has “huge potential” outside of the European Union, the leaders of the four regions’ farmers have said.
Speaking after discussions in Brussels with their counterparts in the European farming unions, the presidents of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), the NFU, NFU Scotland and NFU Cymru, agreed a number of key lobbying priorities to ensure the sector remains an important contributor to the UK economy.
‘Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to build a new domestic agricultural policy which is adapted to our needs’Ulster Farmers Union president Barclay Bell
UFU president Barclay Bell said: “Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to build a new domestic agricultural policy which is adapted to our needs. Bureaucratic requirements that add costs on farm but deliver no added value must be removed.”
In an upbeat joint statement, the four presidents said that – despite the current uncertainty – a “once in a lifetime opportunity” now existed to develop an agricultural policy that “recognises our unique circumstances”.
Prior to the EU referendum the UFU had resisted calls to take a policy stance on whether leaving or remaining in the EU was better for Northern Ireland’s farmers.
In May, responding to a plea from Ian Paisley MP to “get off the fence” in relation to Brexit, the UFU president said: “We made clear from the outset that we would not be telling members how to vote. We have left that up to them, while saying that we have not seen a compelling argument that farming would fare better outside the EU. This issue has been discussed widely within our internal structure and this has been our agreed position from the outset.”
In the joint statement released yesterday, the leaders said: “Our role is enormous. We contribute £10 billion a year to the UK economy, and over £12 billion in exports. We provide thousands of jobs and deliver countless benefit to the natural environment. To be able to continue this, and more, we are looking to all UK governments to commit to maintaining current levels of farm support.”
The statement goes on to say: “While there are no quick-fix solutions and this will be a slow process, it is essential that we have set out at this early stage what we consider to be the priorities for the negotiations and the creation of future agriculture policy in our respective countries.”
The four UK presidents said they were agreed on several key principles that Westminster and the devolved administrations needed to support.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said the agriculture sector has both “huge responsibility and huge potential”.
He said: “UK produce is known the world over for its quality; to continue this, we will need the best possible access to markets in the rest of Europe. New trade agreements with countries outside the EU must be made on the most favourable terms possible. We cannot risk opening our own market to imports that are not produced to our world-leading standards.”
NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie said governments need to ensure that Scottish farmers have access to the required labour force.
“Migrant labour is essential to the future growth of the industry and we cannot allow this to be put at risk,” Mr Bowie said.
Stephen James of NFU Cymru said: “Welsh farmers understand the role that science can play in driving our industry even further forward. If we are to remain competitive then it is essential that all decisions relating to the use of pesticides, herbicides and new technologies must be based on sound science and evidence.”
All four said it was “heartening” that colleagues from farming organisations across Europe have offered their strong support – “recognising that we remain powerful allies and there will be a clear need to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all”.