Chestnutt: Let’s use 2021 to show what the public can gain from backing NI farming

2020 has certainly been challenging for everyone and as we enter a new year, however, it’s important that as a farming community we remain upbeat, Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chesnutt writes in his New Year’s message.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) has created a greater awareness amongst the public about how important farming and the local agri-food industry is to their daily well-being.

We are hopeful that once we come out the other side of this pandemic, government will rediscover the rationale for homegrown food production.

There is little doubt that prior to Covid-19, agriculture had taken a hit due to misrepresentations in the media and a lack of understanding from consumers about the vital role farmers play in society.

‘Covid-19 could change the way our country looks at food security’

However, the pandemic put our farmers in the spotlight for all the right reasons when they were recognised as key workers producing high-quality produce to feed the nation.

Covid-19 could change the way our country looks at food security and what it means in terms of maintaining and developing UK food production so we can become more self-sufficient.

From January 1, the UK not only needs to be able to compete against 27 European Union (EU) countries in our local food market, but it will also have global competition.

With that said, Brexit has presented opportunities that we must take advantage of too. It’s vital that the Ulster Farmers’ Union brings farmers together to look outwards, to understand the threats and embrace the opportunities that leaving the EU has given us.

Helping the UK define its post-Brexit food policy is one of the biggest opportunities that only comes around once in a generation.

The government needs to introduce policies that support the profitability and expansion of local food production within the UK.

In doing this, we need to consider how important food security is over free-market liberalism, how do standards and regulations protect and increase differentiation or lead to extra bureaucracy and cost?

To what extent should the Government lead, as they do in other countries, on investment in research, technology and science to help make the UK an efficient and a distinguished leader?

How do we acknowledge and reward the public service which farmers provide in protecting and preserving the countryside and maintain the vitality of country communities?

After defending its people, a Government’s next priority is to feed its people and these questions need to be answered to create a solid food policy that delivers for everyone.

Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry has proven that we can be a leader in the face of great political upheaval and increasing climate challenges.

‘The potential to be the supplier of choice for the UK’

We are a driving force within the NI economy, building food and farming’s contribution to over £1 billion and employing more than 40,000 people.

We have the potential to be the number one supplier of choice for the UK population – not just in retail but in relation to out-of-home eating as well.

We need to continue building on our world-leading reputation, to be ambitious and transparent. Now is the time for our farmers to promote their fantastic story like never before from the value we put on animal welfare and environmental protection to the great lengths we go to produce high-quality, nutritious food that we are proud off.

Over the next year, let’s make it a priority to show politicians, the supply chain and the public what they can gain from backing NI farming and from investing in its future.

I would like to wish everyone a peaceful, prosperous and blessed 2021 and urge farmers when working on-farm throughout the new year to make their safety a top priority.

Always take a moment to stop and think before working with livestock, slurry, machinery or from heights to ensure you are doing so in the safest way possible and if there are young children in the family, have preventative measures in place to help protect them from farm dangers.

Victor Chesnutt

Ulster Farmers’ Union president