NI farmers heading for decline

4 October 2001

‘NI farmers heading for decline’

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

FARMERS in Northern Ireland are heading for stagnation and decline unless the industry pulls together to meet the challenges head on.

That was the stark warning of Brid Rodgers, the provinces agriculture minister, as she presented a new report in Belfast on Thursday (4 October).

The report is the result of almost two years work by a specially convened Vision Steering Group to develop a strategy for the agri-food industry.

It identifies five key challenges for the next decade.

They are exchange rates; agricultural policy reform; globalisation and e-commerce; changing consumer demands; and sustainable farm practices

The report also calls for the creation of a dynamic, integrated, innovative and profitable agri-food industry.

Such an industry must focus on “delighting customers in an evolving global marketplace and [be] committed to developing its people,” it says.

“It will act as the guardian of our land-based heritage and rural environment, and will help underpin and sustain the social fabric of rural areas”.

To achieve this vision, the report suggests that farmers should focus on evolving markets and strengthen the food chain.

Animal health must be improved, the rural economy strengthened and the environment safeguarded, the report says.

The report looks at each of these areas in considerable detail, making specific suggestions on how to achieve the best results.

It calls for the setting up of a Northern Ireland Food Body to improve relations within the supply chain and promote local food products.

A Unified Farm Quality Assurance scheme, should encompass an initiative for animals born, reared and processed in Northern Ireland, it says.

The Vision group suggests introducing new entrant and early retirement schemes, to help smaller farms adapt to a world with fewer subsidies.

And, on the subject of animal health, it calls for tighter port and airport controls and the adoption of individual animal ID programmes.

Mrs Rodgers admitted that many of these recommendations would be controversial and unpopular with some groups, including government.

She was therefore putting the document out to consultation until the end of the year, prior to issuing a strategic action plan in early 2002.


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