BBC denies it is to axe radio farm coverage

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Dismay has been voiced over rumours that Radio Ulster plans to axe its regular farming slots – although the BBC itself denied it is planning any such thing.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he is to raise the matter in the Assembly, while the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill declared that the loss of the broadcasts would be “keenly felt” by listeners.

But when contacted, a spokesman for the corporation said the idea that it is ditching farming slots is incorrect.

However, he added there are some changes in the pipeline – although he was not able to elaborate on what those are.

The station’s farming coverage consists of bulletins and market prices at 6.40am on weekdays, and a similar slot on during Evening Extra, all hosted by Richard Wright.

A compilation of the week’s agricultural news is then broadcast in the weekly 15-minute Saturday programme Farm Gate at 6.45am.Jim Allister said he had written to the BBC, putting the case for the shows across “in robust terms”.

His correspondence – copied in to the News Letter – read: “I am aghast at the decision to terminate the dedicated farming slots on BBC Radio Ulster.

“Whoever made this decision clearly has no knowledge of, or interest in, the centrality of the agri-food sector to the Northern Ireland economy and rural life.

“The current provision is much valued by the rural community and fulfils a vital role in meeting your obligations as a public service broadcaster.”

He ended by imploring the BBC to “re-examine this crass decision” and said he had tabled a motion for debate in the Assembly.

The suggestion the long-running show may be for the chop has begun circulating for a number of weeks.

On Thursday minister O’Neill issued a statement which read: “I have written to the BBC to voice my concern over plans under consideration to discontinue Farmgate... No other broadcast organisation provides this service to our local agriculture community and its loss would be keenly felt by its listeners.”

Meanwhile, UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson likewise hit out at the corporation, saying she had been left “deeply disappointed by the BBC’s decision”.

The UFU said that it had been lobbying the corporation for weeks in a bid to save Farm Gate, but added it had been “clear from the outset they had made their minds up without any consultation with the farming community”.

But according to the BBC itself, no decision on its farming coverage has yet been reached.

In a statement it said: “We are currently looking at ways in which we can improve our coverage of agriculture-related stories.

“Our daily schedule will continue to reflect rural life in all its different aspects and the contribution that farming makes to the economy.

“We will be making an announcement about our new plans in the near future. We expect that this will allay many of the fears that have been expressed.”