The Ulster Unionist Party’s Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has claimed that the Agriculture Minister is ‘finally waking up to accepting sensible suggestions.’
The Upper Bann MLA said: “From advancing my long term demands for a future large scale capital grants scheme for farmers to the establishment of a contingency fund for future crises, the Minister is taking forward sensible solutions from the Ulster Unionist Party.
“Last week I, alongside my colleague Robin Swann MLA succeeded in passing a motion at the Assembly highlighting the falling incomes which farming families across Northern Ireland have been facing for far too long.
“During the debate I highlighted that long-term problems cannot be solved by short-term measures. Up until now recent announcements have not been those of a strategist and do not tackle the root causes of the dire situation within the industry.
“Since I was elected to Stormont I have called for a large scale capital grants scheme to be put in place by the Department of Agriculture.
“This would encourage young farmers to remain in and indeed return to the industry, something which is of critical importance giving our ageing farm population. A similar scheme has worked incredibly well for farmers in Scotland.
“I am pleased to hear that this suggestion is being taken forward by the Minister as she looks to the future of the Farm Modernisation Scheme.
“In a similar way I am also pleased that the Minister has agreed to look at my proposal for a contingency fund to be set up within the Executive which could deliver immediate financial aid following any future crises in farming, such as the recent severe snow fall.
“Waiting twelve weeks following a crisis, as with the current ‘limited’ hardship fund, is totally unacceptable.
“Whilst the Minister has told me directly she is ‘content with the process,’ I know many farmers who are far from content.
Robin Swann MLA said: “Following the publication of the agri food strategy it is clear that our industry in the long term could have a very positive outlook. That is why it is all the more disheartening that farmers have received such a substantial hit in their incomes over the last year or two.
“Unless we can ensure the viability of the industry, I fear that the entire strategy could fall on the simple fact that we don’t have enough people working in the industry producing the goods on which it would rely.
“The point of the Ulster Unionist Party bringing this motion to the Assembly was to impress upon the Minister the severity of the problem. I know of many young people wanting to take up farming as a career but at present there simply isn’t the recompense there to allow them to take that step.”
In conclusion Mrs Dobson said: “The Ulster Unionist Party is determined to fight for the rights of rural people to a rural service and will continue to stand up for farmers and their families.”