Support payments to farmers in Northern Ireland are likely to be “frozen” from 2019 to 2022, while new support arrangements may be introduced on a trial basis.
Those are two of the conclusions drawn by farm leaders following a visit to the province by Defra secretary Michael Gove on Thursday (28 September).
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell said he was “encouraged” by Mr Gove’s commitment to not only continue the existing level of support during the current parliament, but his willingness to see decision-making devolved to the UK regions, “in line with existing funding commitments”.
“We discussed his suggestion of a freeze in individual payments to farmers during a transitional period until a new support system was introduced, and the potential to pilot new support mechanisms, which we could possibly implement at a regional level,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU was also encouraged that Mr Gove restated his position that lower standard imports should not be allowed to undermine UK producers.
“We also received assurances about farming and the food industry maintaining access to labour, which was welcome,” said Mr Bell.
Mr Bell believes that Mr Gove’s high profile in government will be good for agriculture.
“He has clearly been in a listening and thinking mode since we last met him,” he said.
“We now know that, while he wants to see farmers deliver for the environment – which we all support – that has to be in the context of profitable, family farm businesses.”
Mr Gove said he recognised the economic significance of food and farming to Northern Ireland and believed a new political approach post-Brexit would be to the province’s economic advantage.