The Ulster Unionist spokesperson for agriculture has welcomed a bill which provides the continuance of direct payments to Northern Ireland farmers for 2020 following the UK’s exit from the EU on Friday, January 31.

As the UK has left the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from the EU to farmers will cease.

Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Rosemary Barton said she supports the bill, which was brought by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on Monday, January 27, and is looking forward to early planning and preparation for future arrangements to support the agri-food industry in the country.

She told Stormont: “As someone who grew up on a family farm between Newtownbutler in Fermanagh and Clones in County Monaghan, just a few hundred yards from the border, I am very well aware of the difficulties of farming in challenging circumstances,” said Mrs. Barton.

“For some decades, agriculture has benefited from a level of support, whether it has come from our own Government or from the European Union.

“We have heard arguments in the past that this support is farmers receiving money for nothing, but, as we are all aware, that is not the fact. Farmers in Northern Ireland produce exceptionally good, quality products — some of the best that you will find anywhere in the world — while having to meet very difficult environmental, animal welfare and traceability standards that were introduced and implemented by the EU, the UK Government and agencies.”

“This legislative continuity Bill will facilitate support for Northern Ireland farmers for this year from the new EU’s multi-annual budget for 2021. Northern Ireland farmers are, however, still due this EU support for 2021 as these payments are made in arrears.

“This will maintain continuity of support for the local farming industry for this year, but for this year only.”

However, the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA raised concern about what will happen after 2020.

“Not contained in the Bill, however, is the answer to the question that everyone involved in the agri-food industry will be asking: what will the future hold for farmers in relation to support? Many fear for the future of the traditional family farm, a sector that supplies food not only for us in Northern Ireland but for many throughout the EU and beyond,” said Mrs. Barton.