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UFU President Outlines Priorities for 2012

by 5m Editor
5 January 2012, at 6:39am

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - UFU President John Thompson has taken some time to reflect on the challenges and achievements of the past year as well as to look ahead to the coming year.

Mr Thompson said: "2011 was a year of unpredictable weather and ultimately one of the wettest years on record for Northern Ireland. As a result, farmers faced a number challenges, delays and set backs throughout the year, however, across the province farmers dealt with these issues with professionalism showing their resilience and adaptability. However, the 15 October slurry spreading deadline did leave many farmers feeling the pressure. Farmers were heartened though when, after intense lobbying by the UFU, Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced that as a result of our exceptional weather circumstances farmers would be able to, on an individual basis, spread slurry beyond the 15 October Nitrates Action Programme deadline, if they could record reasonable circumstances as to why they were unable to meet the slurry spreading deadline. I was very pleased that the UFU’s lobbying in Stormont and Brussels was listened to by Ministers and EU officials.

"Overall, CAP reform post 2013 has been the hot topic for 2011. Unfortunately, the CAP reform proposals published in October by the EU Commission were a big disappointment. They are very complex and seemed to lack strategic direction, for example there is no thrust at all towards food production and an over emphasis on greening, yet we face a huge food scarcity issue with the global population reaching 7 billion in 2011. The proposals are also set against significant uncertainty about the future of the Euro and the European budget. The UFU has been at the forefront of CAP discussions locally, nationally and at an EU level and 2012 will see the answers to farmers concerns revealed – the UFU continues to push for stability in the agriculture industry and at the moment this is not guaranteed in either our marketplace where prices have been very volatile, or in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy and the support we get from Europe.

"The rising cost of production continues to be a major concern for farmers. Despite many agriculture commodity prices rising strongly in 2011, leading to a renewed optimism in the industry, the rising cost of feed, fuel and fertiliser has meant that farmers have seen their profit margins squeezed. In 2011, the UFU met with retailers and processors to raise this issue and urged them to ensure they are paying producers a fair price that takes in to account the real cost of producing food. We have also consistently called on the Government to invest in our agri-food industry and to recognise it as a key asset in helping to secure economic recovery in Northern Ireland following the recession. For this reason it was satisfying to see a commitment on the NI Assembly’s draft Programme for Government to develop a strategic plan for the agri-food industry, something we have been pushing for.

"In 2011, unfortunately rural theft is another issue that came to the fore for many of our members and is something the UFU has taken very seriously. Earlier this year NFU Mutual published figures showing that the total bill across the UK for rural crime amounted to almost £4million in 2010, with the most commonly stolen items being quad bikes, tractors and tools. The Union met with senior PSNI officials to highlight this significant issue and to push for them to adopt a joined up and proactive approach across the province. Since then the UFU has supported the PSNI to launch local rural text alert services and trailer marking events, as well as participated in local District Policing Partnership events. The UFU has also launched four new security related affinity deals that are exclusive for UFU members.

"Throughout 2011, the UFU team has worked tirelessly to address these important issues and many more including: VIA grading, EU dairy package, hen cage ban, greenhouse gas emissions, land eligibility, National Parks legislation, and animal health.

"Looking ahead to 2012, CAP reform will once again take centre stage and we will hopefully see the concerns we have already raised addressed. The UFU will continue to lobby for a workable CAP and to secure the best possible Single Farm Payment Allocation for Northern Ireland. In the marketplace, we will be pressing the UK Government to finally introduce the Supermarket Adjudicator which they have promised; which will help the address the current power imbalance in the supply chain. We will also continue to progress key sectoral issues in conjunction with our Policy Committees and Executive Committee.

"With over 800 new members in 2011, the Union has gone from strength to strength and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all UFU members all the best for 2012. Despite the challenges ahead, I believe this is a time for optimism in agriculture. In Northern Ireland, we know our farms and food processors are world class and in a food scarce world we have the opportunity to position ourselves to be a key supplier of the global marketplace."