Sheep producers are demanding full recognition within Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots’ recently published farm reform proposals for Northern Ireland (NI).

Many claim that the industry has been not recognised at all within the farm minister's new policy document.

The issue was discussed in detail at the first of the 2022 Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) Winter Road Show meetings

The event was held earlier this week in Ballynahinch, Co. Down, and was attended by the UFU's entire presidential team.

UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, said that he fully agreed with the claims made by sheep farmers, adding:

“The Union will act to ensure that the needs of the sheep sector are met in full. I am aware that lamb prices are relatively strong at the present time. But this has not always been the case.”

Chestnutt continued:

“There is no guarantee that sheep prices will always be as buoyant as they are at the present time. The need for the sector to be fully recognised within the future support measures thatr are made available t agriculture across the board is an obvious one.

“And the Union will act accordingly.”

Members attending the Ballynahinch meeting also pointed out that the Poots’ document contains no reference to land tenure.

In response, Victor Chestnutt said that this matter had also been identified by the Union, adding:

“Again, this matter will be brought to the attention of Minister Poots.

“However, it is very possible that the issue of land tenure has been addressed by the Farming and Food Review Group, headed up by former National Farmers’ Union president, Sir Peter Kendall.

“The group’s report will be published over the coming weeks.”

The president indicated that future support for farming within the UK would not have a strong food production focus.

“Climate change and farming with the environment are the key drivers for government at the present time,” he explained.

“There is strong support for agriculture at Westminster. But the farming industry must recognise the issues that will encourage politicians to loosen the purse strings, where matters of a rural support nature are concerned.”

Chestnutt also confirmed that farmers will only receive future support payments if they commit to improving the efficiency of their businesses.

He continued:

“If farm gate prices were strong enough, farmers would not need support.  But this is far from being the case at the present time.”

The UFU hierarchy seems to have accepted that the £300m annual budget, which will be available to drive future farm policy in Northern Ireland is, pretty much, as good as it is going to get.

However, deputy president, David Brown, confirmed at the Ballynahinch meeting that the UFU will be seeking additional funds for measures that would bring about generational change on local farms.

“Bog wetting is a case in point,” he stressed.