Fears that the rural community will “bear the brunt” of government budget cuts have been expressed by the president of the Ulster Farmers Union.
In a New Year message, Ian Marshall also said he hoped the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will be simplified, and demanded that farmers are protected from reductions in public services.
He said: “Looking ahead to 2015, we will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the budget cuts proposed for the NI Executive’s government departments. We have already expressed our serious concern that rural services will bear the brunt of these cuts and in particular have stressed that any cuts to DARD’s (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) budget must not impact on frontline services for farmers.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said he fully shared the UFU president’s concerns about the volatility of the local agricultural industry.
“This is a very sensible and sane approach for Ian Marshall to take on behalf of his UFU members as we enter a year which may be very difficult, and indeed hazardous, for farmers to cope with.
“The problems which farmers face in the dairy and beef sectors are immense and the situation of our Ulster farmers will not be helped by a reduction in the implementation of public services which directly impinge on how our agricultural industry is able to conduct its business on a sound and economically viable footing,” he said.
Mr Nicholson added: “We live in times of great volatility economically and farmers will regrettably be in the front line when it comes fiscal pruning by DARD.
“I would fully support Ian Marshall’s call for farmers to be protected from the effects of reductions in public services, as are likely in the financial cut-backs being demanded by the Stormont Executive.
“Frontline services on our farms must continue to be protected, and upheld, if our agricultural industry is to survive.”
As part of the Stormont Executive cut-backs, DARD faces the inevitability of laying off 300 civil servants and there is also the likelihood of a spending freeze that would curtail grass roots agricultural research work.
Agricultural research by DARD officials sets the template for farmers to maintain the highest standards.
In his message released yesterday, the UFU leader said the union remains a committed member of Northern Ireland’s Farm Safety Partnership.
“We will be doing our part to help raise awareness about farm safety and to progress the points outlined in the second action plan.
“Finally, farmer profitability remains a top issue on the UFU’s busy agenda and we will continue our campaign to ensure farmers are paid a fair price for what they produce.”