Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, has accused the DARD Minister of being pre-occupied by the Going for Growth strategy and neglecting her key responsibilities of promoting the sector and its produce.
The Upper Bann MLA said:
“Over recent months, as pressure has continued to build on lamb and dairy farmers, it has become increasingly clear that the Minister has got no plan B. It is all fine and well looking with awe at what might be achieved in the future, but unless she is protecting what we have got at the present then ultimately it will all be hypothetical.
“The agri-food strategy ‘Going for Growth’ was launched amid a great deal of fanfare and included an ambitious set of recommendations which the Ulster Unionist Party at the time were happy to endorse. In the two years since however it has continued to promise much but delivered very little.
“We do have a real opportunity with our argi-food sector. It is already the largest single employer in Northern Ireland with over 70,000 people working in farming and the food processing industry. Only one of the many targets in the Going for Growth Strategy was to increase this employment by a further 15% to 115,000 by 2020.
“Ultimately, apart from a much delayed agri-loan scheme and an administrative review of business red tape, farmers on the on the ground are still waiting to see any real benefit coming from the strategy. They are becoming increasingly frustrated that every time a problem arises within the industry the Minister has no other answer but refer to high level ambitions within the strategy. In fact I fully believe that where there actually has been real progress in our local agri-food sector in recent years, such as the increase in our local poultry production, it would have happened anyway regardless of the strategy.
“In my opinion the Going for Growth Strategy has now become a distraction. There is no doubt that it remains an important framework for the future direction of the industry, but the Minister is neglecting even basic responsibilities. Her response to the latest crisis within our dairy sector is just to talk about the need for further discussions and further strategies. Adopting such an elementary reply to every single problem shows a Minister either unprepared to act or unable to comprehend the realities facing the local industry.”