Agriculture on Course For Better Year Ahead

NORTHERN IRELAND - Northern Ireland's Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew said that the use of technology is critical for the farming industry in a New Year message reflecting on 2009 and expressing her hopes for the farming industry over the next 12 months.
calendar icon 5 January 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

The Minister said: “In 2009 we faced our fair share of highs and lows. Despite the economic downturn, agriculture weathered the recession, but it too has challenges to address.

“January saw the fall-out from the dioxin contamination of animal feedstuffs. Lessons were learned, in particular the need for heightened vigilance and diligence at all stages of food production. Consequently a new early warning system between north and south is now in place.

“Dairy prices in 2009 have been more than 20% below 2008. Following lobbying from all of us, the EU provided support measures. But neither export refunds, nor intervention buying offer long-term stability. With EU dairy quotas due to end our industry remains dependent on basic commodities and international commodity markets. The commissioning of a competitiveness study which I helped fund will hopefully provide focus in 2010.

“Although beef prices during 2009 have been higher than 2008, they still fall well short of making beef production profitable, particularly from the suckler cow sector. As a part of the Red Meat Taskforce, we are working alongside industry to help develop competitiveness. I have initiated a review of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and await its final Report.

The Minister continued: “In February, the launch of our Farm Modernisation Programme (FMP) attracted over 9,000 applications from farmers seeking almost £40million worth of funding towards investment in their farms. Notwithstanding the recession farmers were still prepared to put tens of millions of pounds of their own money (in addition DARD’s financial assistance) to modernise their farm businesses. Teething troubles have taught us lessons for the roll-out of Tranche 2 funding, which I aim to open for applications in the first half of 2010.

“The use of technology on-farm is critical for our industry’s future. Through CAFRE and the Rural Development Programme (RDP), DARD carried out a number of initiatives in 2009 ranging from Single Farm Payment online to the use of new equipment. I wish to congratulate my staff, whose work has been recognised in technology awards in 2009.

“We have made significant progress on Brucellosis and Aujeszky’s Disease. Through industry and Government working together, we are hopeful of eradicating both diseases within the next few years. New animal disease control powers have been secured in the Diseases of Animals Bill. This new legislation places emphasis on preventative measures and use of the latest research and technology. We have received EU approval for our 2010 bovine TB Eradication Plan, and from 1 January we start to remove animals that are “second time inconclusives”, which will help us secure EU co-funding for the Plan. The introduction of a new electronic identification system for sheep also commences from 1 January.

Reflecting on RDP the Minister said: “Many measures within the RDP are now open for business and Rural White Paper plans are moving forward. I secured Executive agreement to lead this work, with stakeholders identifying the key challenges facing our rural areas. This work will pick up pace in 2010. I also rolled out the Rural Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy, including funding for childcare, transport and fuel poverty. Further initiatives will follow in 2010.

“In the coming year we have an ambitious legislative programme including the Welfare of Animals Bill, Forestry Bill and the Dog Control Bill. The Welfare of Animals Bill will increase protection for non-farmed animals, including domestic pets, to match that currently in place for farmed animals.

“The Dog Control Bill will replace out-dated legislation from 1983 on licensing and introduce new control measures to promote and support responsible dog ownership. This legislation is close to my heart and covers issues which affect everyone in the community.

“Over the next year, the climate change agenda will bring challenges to local agriculture, with tough emissions reduction targets which are set in carbon budgets. We will have to develop a measured policy response, based on sound scientific evidence and, in this respect, we will be relying heavily on the local scientific expertise within AFBI on livestock, nutrient and land management practices.

“With a new EU Commission in place forging new and meaningful relationships and presenting our case in Europe will be more important than ever.

“Recent flooding which affected County Fermanagh in particular tested all the services involved and I am very proud of the Rivers Agency response. I argued strongly within the Executive for the Flooding Task Force which has now been established for Fermanagh.

“The undoubted constraints in public finances in 2010 will require us as an Executive to re-examine our strategic priorities, targeting resources at those that need it most. 2009 has been challenging and I expect the coming year will be no less so.

“In addition, the poorest in our society are also the most vulnerable and I will continue to do all within my power through the RDP and my Rural Poverty and Social Exclusion Strategy to deliver a real difference to their quality of Life.

In conclusion the Minister said: “I am optimistic that the year ahead will be a better one. It is my hope that the economic recovery that we all waiting for will bear fruit in 2010. I wish you and your families a peaceful and prosperous New Year.”

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