UFU President Urges Farmers to Be Positive in 2016

The hope at the start of any new year is that it will be better than the one just gone. Many farmers will conclude it would be difficult for 2016 to be worse than 2015, with its non-existent summer saved by a good autumn, poor prices for all the major commodities and a weak euro making life difficult for exports and cutting the value of our Cap payments.

What these all had in common were that they were beyond the control of farmers – and as we enter 2016 farmers need to be positive about what they can do to influence the future and their individual business.

With the arrival of the new year we are in the 2016 Year of Food and Drink in Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity to show people here and further afield just how good our industry is at every level.

Farmers, large and small, are the foundation of the number one industry in Northern Ireland, whether that is measured by employment or contribution to the economy. As such we should all feel part of these celebrations of the industry’s successes. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on how much farmers deliver.

I hope that when Open Farm Weekend comes around in June the focus on food will create a new agenda for farmers to highlight their businesses. We have a lot to be proud of, and we must use the Year of Food and Drink to show that while we have short term and damaging financial problems in the industry we are here for the long haul as the most resilient industry in Northern Ireland.

New year messages should be upbeat but as a farming union representing just under 12,000 members we know first-hand how tough 2015 was, and those tough times will continue well into the new year. We can explain all the reasons behind them, and they are all global in nature.

Volatility, it seems, has become the new normal for farming. We will most likely continue with our efforts to negotiate changes and find solutions, locally, in London and in Brussels. However it would be wrong to suggest there is a magic bullet or a pool of new money that could end these serious difficulties.We will continue pressing for measures to ease the cash flow crisis on many farms across Northern Ireland, but realistically we must begin looking to the future.

We have to find solutions to the damage caused by volatility. If we do not do so, we are condemning ourselves to live permanently with a boom and bust situation. This will not be easily or quickly achieved, but it is the road we must begin to travel as thoughts begin to turn to the mid-term review of the Cap in 2017, and to the next big reform after 2020.

As an organisation and as farmers we have to look at what we can do to help ourselves. The union are already involved both centrally and financially in a number of major new initiatives including the development of new markets, particularly outside the EU, making better use of genomics in livestock farming and implementing livestock disease eradication and control programmes.

One particularly important area is that of succession and land tenure and I am pleased that the UFU and Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster have already begun working together on this. We need to find ways that young farmers, with lots of energy, can get into the industry by working with older farmers who want to slow down or leave the industry, but who have land, lots of knowledge and no obvious succession.

It is an old adage, but nonetheless true that ‘youth are the future’ and I hope 2016 will see this relationship between the UFU and YFCU develop further.

The new year will also see mainstream politics coming to the fore. We will have assembly elections in May, and we will be challenging all the political parties to use their manifestos to show a genuine and meaningful commitment to farming and food.

The issue of the UK referendum on EU membership will also dominate the political agenda, and indeed could even take place in 2016. While we have not yet taken a formal position on how our members should vote, we are clear that both sides should set out in detail how they see the future for agriculture in or out of the European Union.

At the start of the new year what we all hope for health for ourselves and our families. That is never within our gift, but as UFU president the one guarantee I can give is that as the UFU comes closer to its centenary celebrations in 2018 we will fight as hard for all our members as the organisation has over the past 98 years.

Even if it is a very different industry today some things have not changed – the pride we as farmers have in what we do, and the absolute need for profitability to maintain family businesses.

Ian Marshall is president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU)

Source: irishnews.com