The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned the Agri Food Strategy Board (AFSB) not to allow the lack of a minister and Executive at Stormont to be a roadblock to pursuing its vision for the future of Northern Ireland’s biggest industry. “We are already slipping behind our competitors in terms of having a plan in place and implemented – and that cannot be allowed to continue,” said UFU president, Barclay Bell.
The UFU is keen initiatives around making agriculture more productive, as a source of supply for the food industry, should be pursued now. It believes there is no reason for continuing delay, and has challenged the board of the AFSB, in a meeting this week, to justify this lack of progress, regardless of the political stalemate at Stormont . “This is too ready an excuse of inaction. The report which was developed through collaboration and partnership between industry representatives and Government Departments has been on the table for over four years now, and its recommendations have been debated endlessly. We need action to remain competitive, not least because of the changes Brexit will bring. The responsibility for implementing this strategy was shared between Government and industry and we cannot wait for a minister to rubber-stamp simple decisions to drive the industry forward,” said the UFU president.
“From the outset, the UFU broadly supported the AFSB’s recommendations but stressed more detail was required. For us it has always been important that this leads to action and while some of the recommendations, particularly the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, have been rolled out, there are too many others were we have seen little progress,” said Bell. The UFU said it backs the thrust of the key initiatives the AFSB is focussing on which include an industry-led marketing organisation for local food, better livestock genomics, and aid to improve processing and marketing.
“We are impatient for progress. We were promised the AFSB report would not join others on the shelf labelled good ideas that never happened. Now that is in danger of happening yet again. We operate in a harshly competitive market place that can only become more so. Political stalemate can no longer be an excuse for inaction by the board of AFSB or indeed civil servants. Whether decisions are taken by a local or direct rule minister does not matter. We need a drive now to make sure they happen, before even more time is wasted,” said Bell.