The Ulster Farmers’ Union Presidential team discussed a range of major issues affecting farmers at the annual President’s Area Meeting in Enniskillen recently.

Among the topics were the problems from Brexit and the NI Protocol, the consultation on future payments, trade deals, Climate Change Bills, TB strategy and broadband speeds in rural areas.

President, Victor Chestnutt said that the NI protocol had made it difficult for pedigree breeders taking animals to shows in GB because if these were unsold, they had to remain in GB for six months before returning. That was now being addressed.

Arable growers were having problems sourcing potato and cereal seed from GB as well as plant protection products.

However he said movement of goods for agriculture was going reasonably well but machine parts which once took only 24 hours to get delivered on farm was now taking up to two weeks.

Climate change

There was much talk at the meeting over the Climate Change Bill (No.2) which was considered by MLAs on the following Tuesday and where an amendment calling for targets of net zero by 2050 was passed. A provincewide rally of UFU members was held at Stormont on the day of the debate.

The UFU President said that farmers in NI, with a population of 1.8m, were producing enough food for 10m people of which he was extremely proud.

The DAERA TB strategy also engaged plenty of discussion with UFU Deputy President, William Irvine explaining how they had taken part in a study tour of parts of England where wildlife intervention schemes involving shooting and trapping of badgers were carried out.

He described the process as exceptionally professionally run and safe.

He said the effects of this wildlife intervention to closed herds in the area was emphatic with 139 closed herds before the intervention reduced to just 17 closed herds after a few years and the level of disease was greatly reduced.

“We went home enthused this would help farmers,” he said.

Victor Chestnutt said there were other positive signs from such a wildlife cull.

Farmers in the area visited in the south-west of England could see an increase in numbers of hedgehogs and ground nesting birds and bumble bees and other insects.

He said badgers were protected but not endangered and it appeared they were making havoc with other wildlife.

In terms of the DAERA TB consultation, there were over 3,500 responses and Victor Chestnutt was confident that legislation would be through by the end of February.

“We can make a real inroad to TB eradication,” he said.

On the current consultation on future agricultural policy, UFU chief executive, Wesley Aston explained some of the measures in the DAERA consultation paper and said it would not be introduced until the 2024 year.

While there would be an overall reduced whole farm payment, there were other measures to attract payments such as improving efficiency in livestock breeding, slaughtering animals at a younger age and improving the environment.

In terms of carbon emissions, the UFU team put NI in perspective by saying NI cattle carbon emissions were less than half of the global figure and less than a quarter of South America. For example in NI the carbon figure was 1.1kg per litre of milk produced compared to the global figure of 2.9.

Another discussion took place on rural broadband with the Fibrus scheme roll-out continuing.

The President’s charity this year is Life Beyond, part of Rural Support which is a new loss and bereavement service in Northern Ireland. Tributes were paid to Fermanagh farmer, Norman Foster, who died in a farm-related accident before Christmas. Support is given to farm families at difficult times such as these.