It was a real privilege to attend this year’s Farming Life and Danske Bank awards, where I was delighted to sponsor the Young Farmer of the Year category. These awards have become an annual fixture in the farming calendar, allowing us to give recognition to much of the good and leading work being carried out by primary producers in our province.
We must not forget that local farm businesses are the backbone of the agri-food industry, which has an estimated turnover of £4.8 billion in Northern Ireland. They are vital to ensuring that local exports continue to thrive and stand apart in markets across the world.
This year, I wanted to give recognition to the contribution made by young farmers. Without their skills, vision, and drive to succeed, local agriculture and its immeasurable benefits to the Northern Ireland economy simply would not be sustainable. New blood is vital and we in elected office and in government must harness their enthusiasm and give them the support and assistance needed to maximise the clear potential.
There has been much discussion about how the UK’s departure from the EU will impact the local industry, and we do not deny that there will be challenges that require close cooperation to bring solutions.
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However, I believe a future outside of the EU also brings the freedom and opportunity to ensure that Northern Ireland’s new agriculture policy is properly braced to bring in fresh blood and promote confidence among young people interested in a career in the sector.
As UK Farm Minister, George Eustice MP, highlighted last week at the DUP Rural Affairs Breakfast we have an excellent opportunity to do what is right for the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. Food security and supply security must be a priority post-Brexit. The Minister highlighted a number key areas which he wanted to focus on in any new British agriculture policy. To sum up, he stated that agriculture will continue to be supported but in different ways; which will ultimately drive forward change within the industry.
I would also like to commend my party colleague and Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen for ensuring farmers received a much-needed early cash injection - something which the previous Minister was unable to achieve. In fact the goal was 80% of payment, but this was exceeded by a further 10%. Those yet to receive payment will continue to be a priority for the Department as part of its target to deliver full or balance payments to 95% of eligible farmers in December.
On a final note, and most importantly, over the past number of weeks we have been reminded once again that farms are dangerous working environments.
While many of us know the dangers, and perhaps think we are immune to the dangers of everyday tasks, I would simply ask that we all think twice before taking on tasks around the farmyard.