Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, Victor Chestnutt, believes that society as a whole buys into the principle of supporting agriculture into the long-term.

He told Agriland: "As an industry we need long-term support. But I also think that the support farmers need will always be there.

"It may be drawn down differently. But if we are truly serious about climate change, farmers are unique in being able to operate on both sides of the equation.

Getting the money may well require farmers involving themselves in a number of different schemes. And I think this is only right and proper.

"The downside is that life looks set to become more complicated for farmers as they access the support that is available. But government also recognises that agriculture plays such an important role in maintaining environmental standards across the country as a whole," he added.

"And, on that basis alone, it will have no option but to continue supporting the farming sectors."

Long-term support for agriculture

"Looking to the long-term, we need to see at least the same level of support coming into the industry, as is currently the case," Chestnutt continued.

The UFU president said that last year, the single payment accounted for 81% of the income generated on local farms in Northern Ireland.

According to Victor Chestnutt, the government wants to food to be produced in an environmentally sensitive manner. But he also recognises the vast improvements that farmers in Northern Ireland can secure as they strive to improve the efficiency of their businesses.

As far as he is concerned, efficiency and sustainability are two sides of the one coin.

UFU supportive of sustainability pillars

The UFU president said he supports the four pillars of sustainability, laid out in the policy framework document recently published by Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, Edwin Poots.

These are: Increased farm productivity; improved resilience; environmental sustainability; and a responsive supply chain.

The UFU president commented:

"The public consultation that is now ongoing needs to be very sharp and to the point.

In total contrast to the developments that have taken place in England and Wales, the union here has worked very closely with the farm minister and his officials to put in place a policy document that meets the specific needs of local farmers."

Victor Chestnutt said he feels that food production levels will, at the very least, be maintained in Northern Ireland.

He explained: "I don't buy into the principle that we need to throttle back our food production levels with the world's population set to increase so significantly over the coming years.

The more we import food, the greater the intensity of the carbon within the food that we eat here. This approach makes no sense at all.

"Western Europe can produce red meat and milk with a carbon intensity figure that is 52% less than that recorded in the rest of the world. So importing food puts the carbon intensity figure entirely in the wrong direction," he concluded.