This year’s Balmoral Show (May 11-14) takes place against the backdrop of real change impacting every sector of agriculture in Northern Ireland.
And perhaps the most significant of these is the fast growing disparity between the support levels available to agriculture on both parts of this island.
The most obvious difference, in this regard, centres on the fact that a fully functional government continues to operate in Dublin.
Meanwhile, in Belfast, it could take months for the various political parties to agree a cohesive future for the Stormont Executive.
It is also evident at this stage that the Dublin government is willing to take on board the needs of farmers when the going gets tough.
Discussions at Balmoral Show
The recent announcement of a silage scheme at least recognises the fact that Irish farmers are currently under the cosh when it comes to buying fertiliser and committing to make sufficient silage for the months ahead.
The Tillage Incentive Scheme was another measure introduced by the Dublin government in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine and will probably be the topic of conversation amongst some at the Balmoral Show
And did politicians in Northern Ireland respond in kind?
Of course, they didn’t! The £300 million sent across from Westminster to Belfast to help the local economy deal with the current cost-of-living crisis remains frozen in a Stormont bank account, all because political leaders couldn’t get on with each other.
For the record, £70 million of this money should be coming to farmers by way of a much needed support measure for the industry. This amounts to almost 25% of the single payment budget paid out in the north each year.
Two months ago, the leadership of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) held a protest rally at Stormont to sort out the then threat of a potentially damaging climate change bill.
Methinks, if I was the new UFU president, David Brown, I would be bringing the troops back up to Stormont in double quick time, demanding the immediate release of the aforementioned £70 million.
Future food security
Looking to the future, there is every indication that Brussels has, at last, taken the issue of future food security seriously. This reality is fast being reflected in the outworking of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In addition, Brussels has also recognised the virtue of individual member state governments having more flexibility in terms of the way they interact with their national farming industries.
There is little doubt that the Irish government will take full advantage of this evolving scenario.
Contrast this with the situation in the UK where the issue of national food security no longer registers at all within political circles.
The current Conservative government in London is hell bent on signing free trade deals with a selection of the world’s farming and food superpowers.
Securing cheap food from anywhere is now the mantra that drives the thinking of Westminster policy makers in my opinion – irrespective of what happens to the farmers on their own doorsteps.
It’s a scenario that may well have very direct consequences for the future evolution of farming policies in Northern Ireland.
Significant distortions in the farm support measures available to farmers across the island of Ireland have very negative consequences, for lots of reasons.
So, it will be interesting to see how Stormont’s politicians react to this challenge as they ‘try’ to plan a future for the north’s farming sectors in a post-election, post-Brexit world.