The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that it will not play any part in the EU referendum campaign.
Setting out its position today, the influential union expressed a level of support for staying in Europe and highlighted the financial benefits to farmers of the status quo.
The union said that “both sides in the debate on the EU referendum need to set out” the detail of what would happen to farmers, but said that “no compelling argument has been made that agriculture would be better off outside the EU”, adding that “those supporting Brexit need to rise to that challenge”.
However, following a UFU executive meeting on Wednesday night, the union did not, as many had expected, come out firmly to say that it would campaign in favour of the UK remaining within the EU.
In a statement issued at lunch time today, the UFU said that it would be hosting a debate on the issue after May’s Assembly election and would ask both sides to participate.
However, it added: “The UFU has made a policy decision that it will not take part in panel discussions or interviews on the Brexit issue. It has made its views clear now, and will not seek to influence people’s voting intentions.”
UFU president Ian Marshall said: “We recognise the many problems of the CAP and have real concerns about the bureaucracy that surrounds it. This has to change, and if the UK remains in the EU we would hope the government would be more vocal in pressing for that to happen.
“Because of the importance of CAP funding, and in the absence of a compelling case being made that farming would be financially better off outside the EU, our view for now is it will fare better in the EU.”
However, Mr Marshall added that the union would not be telling members how they should vote.
He said: “We do not become involved in mainstream politics. Voting has always been a private issue and it is right that it remains that way.”
Mr Marshall said that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was worth more than £230 million a year to farmers in Northern Ireland.
He said: “We want this to be an informed debate. For farmers, future financial support is the central issue.”
The union said that farming families viewed the referendum campaign as being of secondary importance to the “deepening cash flow crisis” across agriculture.
Mr Marshall said: “Tackling this is our current priority, but we will do all we can to encourage debate before the referendum – including bringing both sides together to make their case to farmers.”
He added: “The CAP is vital for farm incomes and no alternative support measures have been put forward by Brexit advocates. In addition the EU is our biggest export market, and we would need firm assurances about access to that market, should the UK vote to leave.”
NI’s dairy herd grows; prices fall
Despite the collapse in the price of milk due to global oversupply, the size of the dairy herd in Northern Ireland has risen to record levels, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has said.
Figures released yesterday show that the number of dairy cows in the Province increased by two per cent last year to 313,600 cattle.
Milk volumes increased even faster, by 2.7 per cent to 2.3 billion litres in 2015 .
The number of beef cattle and the number of sheep also increased, by 3 per cent, during 2015.
In total, there are 1.6 million cattle in Northern Ireland – almost one for every man, woman and child.
The pig herd increased fastest of all livestock sectors. The number of pigs was up six per cent to 533,400 in December 2015 – an increase of 7 per cent on December 2014 but 6 per cent lower than June 2015.