The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the appointment of Michelle McIlveen as the minister at the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

On May 25 Michelle McIlveen, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, was appointed as Minister, taking over from Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O’Neill, who has taken over the Minister for Health job.

McIlveen represents the Strangford constituency in Co. Down and was first elected to the Executive in 2007.

Responding to the announcement, the Union said it looked forward to working with the new minister and stressed that she will be in charge of an industry that shapes the Northern Ireland countryside and which is a key driver of the local economy.

The Union said it is confident that the new minister will live up to commitments by the DUP during the election campaign to deliver for rural communities.

 Michelle McIlveen takes on the agriculture brief at a time when the industry is under extreme financial pressure,” said UFU president, Barclay Bell.

“This makes the job a big challenge. But at the same time there is considerable scope for a new minister to deliver.”

The UFU said the key issues it will be pursuing were set out in its manifesto before the election.

These include securing more fairness along the food supply chain, driving the Going for Growth strategy, easing the path of young people into the industry, opening new markets and ensuring the direct CAP payments farmers rely on reach them speedily.

“The income crisis will be at the heart of our initial discussions,” said Bell.

The UFU President said other important issues include faster implementation of the rural development programme; better access to finance for the farming industry, as well as payment of the Emergency Assistance scheme to those farmers affected by last winter’s flooding.

Bell added that an easy red tape cutting decision for the new minister would be the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has become unnecessary following the recent introduction of the National Living Wage.

“Speedy action on issues like these will boost farmer confidence in the new minister,” said the UFU president.