17 May 2002

Part-timers will be best survivors

PART-TIME farmers have the best chance of surviving the "relentless waves of economic pressure" being heaped on the sector, says Lawrence Smyth, general secretary of the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association.

Representing about 2500 of the provinces smaller livestock farmers, the organisation believes the economic outlook is especially bleak for those tied to full-time farming or otherwise unable to blend off-farm economic activity.

"Within Northern Ireland, we have added problems, in that DEFRA is primarily concerned with GB political priorities," says Mr Smyth. "This places us at a disadvantage to our neighbours in the south of Ireland, where agriculture is given a political priority in proportion to its perceived relevance and economic value."

This weakness is exacerbated by the fact the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture does not have enough autonomy. NIAPA views devolution as a first step to separate regional government. &#42