Hopes raised for NI Farm Welfare Bill with Stormont reset

Farmers For Action Northern Ireland (FFA NI) is hoping that the reinstatement of power-sharing at Stormont gives the green light for the Northern Ireland Farm Welfare Bill to go forward.

The bill, if enacted, will return farmers in Northern Ireland a minimum of the cost of production, inflation-linked, plus a margin, across all the food produced on NI farms.

FFA NI and other supporting organisations, such as the NI Livestock Auctioneers Association, under the banner of the Northern Ireland Farm Group, have restarted their lobbying for the bill to be introduced.

See also: Tighter trade rules for meat moving to Northern Ireland

FFA NI co-ordinator William Taylor told Farmers Weekly: “If the bill is enacted, it will return farmers in Northern Ireland a minimum price of the cost of production inflation-linked, plus a margin for their produce across all the food grown in Northern Ireland.

“The influence of this bill within Northern Ireland will fan out to southern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and further afield into Europe.”

To date, the Ulster Farmers’ Union hierarchy has not given its support to the bill. However, almost every other farming-connected organisation in NI has shown its support. The NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) does not support the bill.

Farmers ‘taken for granted’

Mr Taylor said FFA NI sympathised with farmers in Europe currently protesting, including France and Germany, because for too long farmers had been taken for granted.

“The last three years of inflationary increases and increased costs on farms across Europe had brought this to a head as being the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he added.

Official UK government figures show that 25% of farming businesses were living below the poverty line between 2014 and 2017 – and FFA NI maintains that this figure will have gone up considerably since then with the phased removal of direct support.

“In the 1970s or 80s, talk about farmers needing help from charities would have been laughed at, but this is the reality of where we are at now,” said Mr Taylor.

“Farmers used to be the charity givers, not the charity receivers, which is where we need to be.”

FFA NI says farm support has halved in real terms over the past 23 years due to rising inflation and payments from governments being diverted into environmental schemes.

Over time, Daera is expected to follow the examples set in England and Wales where agriculture will be driven by the environment and, as a consequence, direct support for farmers is set to diminish even further.

“If farmers are going to have to deal with less direct support and everything that climate change and weather extremes bring then anything less than the NI Farm Welfare Bill will not suffice,” said Mr Taylor.

“In other words, from this point onwards farmers need to be paid properly for what they produce in order to deal with climate change, increasing costs and agflation, food security and diminishing support.”

Bill progress impeded

The NI Farm Welfare Bill (PDF) was originally conceived in 2013 and collectively put together by NI farm groups, co-ordinated by Mr Taylor.

The bill has been ready to be enacted since 2020, but the Covid pandemic and the Stormont assembly falling in 2022 have impeded its progress. “If ever there is time for such a bill, it’s now,” said Mr Taylor.

After a two-year deadlock, the NI Executive is expected to appoint new ministers in a matter of days, including a new farming minister. The news has given fresh hope to farmers in Northern Ireland that their sector will finally see a foundation put under farmgate prices.

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