President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), William Irvine, had three priority messages to communicate at this year’s Balmoral Show.

These are: the need to secure a higher farm support fund for agriculture in Northern Ireland; the necessity to push forward with a realistic bovine tuberculosis (bTB) eradication policy, and the requirement for the Environment Agency, in tandem with the Office of Environmental Protection, to review the regulations relating to ammonia emissions from livestock farms.

According to Irvine: “The current farm support budget sits at £329 million. It has been at this level since 2007.

“Inflation has already reduced the value of this budget in real terms. So, looking forward, the annual support level must be pushed well north of £400 million.

“We have already met with the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, on this matter. He agrees with the principle that we have highlighted and have committed to bringing the matter up at Westminster.”

On the issue of bTB, Irvine is deeply concerned that policy decisions on this matter have been transferred to the office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

“This state-of-affairs has only come to light over recent days,” the president added.

The UFU wants to see control of bTB remain within the remit of Andrew Muir. This is the only sensible way forward.

Regarding the outcome of the recent public consultation on bTB compensation values and a formal proposal from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to cut funding budgets by 25%, the UFU representative made it clear that farmers will not countenance such a change.

This perspective is echoed by all of Northern Ireland’s farm lobby groups.

Where ammonia emission levels within agriculture are concerned, Irvine is asking for common sense to be brought to bear on the matter.

He continued: “New technologies will be developed to tackle this issue. But, they are prohibitively expensive to procure in the first place and then to operate thereafter.

“Its imperative that the capital grant schemes made available to farmers take full account of this reality.

“In the meantime, the planning system has ground to a halt, given the severe interpretation of the ammonia criteria being applied.”

The UFU president added that one obvious way forward, is to allow farmers to push forward ahead with the repair or replacement of buildings.

“Replacing them with new buildings that are inherently more ammonia efficient makes sense from all perspectives,” he added.