Farmers Helping Feed The Nation and Deserve Our Support Against Post-Brexit Food Threats

The £25 million support package for beef and dairy farmers secured by Agriculture minister Edwin Poots is a timely boost for the two largest sectors of our vitally important farming industry. The Minister has vowed to do all he can to support the agriculture industry during these very difficult times. It is very encouraging to hear that DAERA now has responsibility for food security.

It is important that we continue to ensure that farming and food are in a healthy shape for the months and years ahead. There is no doubt that food and drink are forefront of people’s minds in a way we could never have imagined a year ago.

As Northern Ireland is such a large producer of beef and dairy produce, the volatile prices on the world market impact them hard and the sectors may yet face other discouraging problems arising from the new Brexit protocol. As events last week showed, Brexit is right back on the agenda. Furthermore, the new Agriculture Bill presents new and worrying threats to the industry.

While the UK Government has pledged – and continues to insist forthrightly – that there will not be any new hurdles to face for agri-food, we will just have to wait to see how the so-called Irish Sea ‘border’ pans out in practice. We can’t take anything for granted. Our Executive must continue to maintain influence on the Government to ensure that our vital agri-food industry is not be adversely impacted by whatever happens next year.

It’s crucial that access to the GB market, our single most important, remains totally unfettered and that there is movement from here to Britain without any further bureaucratic requirements.  Britain will continue to need our quality and traceable food and we must not be placed at a disadvantage against food products imported from third countries, as appears to be a threat in the Agriculture Bill.

Farming and food are more important to the local economy than in many other parts of Britain and it must be nurtured to adapt and grow in both short and long terms. Another unexpected outcome of the pandemic is that people are more focused on health and the benefits derived from a plant-based diet.

Having read the protocol, I am confident that companies here will evolve to best effect. We are a region of innovators. I’ve been thoroughly impressed during the coronavirus crisis by the response of many of our valued farm-based food and drink processors across Northern Ireland.

Recent examples which we’ve been happy to support and promote include the new ‘Ulster Fry in a Box’ from Castlescreen Farm near Downpatrick. Damian Tumelty andJackie Gibson, who run the 100-acre livestock farm created a range of meat boxes for collection or home delivery and have also included other artisan products such as Long Meadow cider.

Glastry Farm in Kircubbin is now delivering its award-winning luxury ice cream and sorbet to doorsteps in Co Down and parts of Belfast. Streamvale Open Farm at Dundonald is collaborating with Mash Direct, Comber; Corries in Newtownards and with a local bakery and fishmonger to deliver a wide range of artisan products. Mash Direct is also operating its own delivery service. Dean Wright at Ballylisk Dairies in Tandragee is delivering milk and other artisan foods to doorsteps in Armagh. Dale Farm, in addition, is also delivering milk from its farmers. Mervyn Kennedy is delivering bacon all over Northern Ireland from his farm near Omagh.

This all adds up to a resilient and highly innovative food and drink community positioned for continuing growth beyond the virus.