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Ulster Farmers' Union has all eyes on the future as it celebrates centenary

By Richard Halleron ·

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Showjumping at the Balmoral Show

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) is celebrating its centenary at this year's Balmoral Show. But for the organisation in question, it’s very much a case of looking to the future.

“Brexit will become reality,” said UFU president Ivor Ferguson. “We will have little say in the negotiations that take place over the coming weeks and months. That’s a job for the politicians.

“Our priority is to ensure that a realistic farm support system is put in place, once London takes over at the helm of agricultural policy development for the UK.”

Mr Ferguson is conscious of the fact that the UK authorities currently favour a farm support policy that gives more recognition to environmental issues.

“Farmers are the traditional custodians of the countryside,” he said.

“And generations of producers have done a pretty good job in maintaining the highest environmental standards.

“Looking to the future we want to see the introduction of farm policies that prioritise food production and the needs of the many families that constitute the very fabric of agriculture in Northern Ireland.”

Not surprisingly then, the UFU is totally opposed to any measure that could, effectively, introduce food production quotas by the back door.

A case in point is the current stand-off between the UFU and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) regarding the granting of planning permission to farmers who submitted business plans under the EU/UK funded Farm Business Improvement Scheme.

At the very heart of the matter is the determination of the ammonia levels produced by the farm businesses in question.

“NIEA has been caught asleep at the wheel when it comes to ammonia,” said Mr Ferguson.

“The UFU raised concerns about the ammonia issue over a year ago and we are only now starting to see government progress. We recognise that ammonia is an issue that needs to be tackled but one of our concerns is that we still do not know the true extent of ammonia emissions across Northern Ireland.

“The union has major concerns that some of the emission factors that are being used to calculate ammonia by NIEA do not reflect the real situation on many local farms.

“It is completely unacceptable that farmers have faced exceedingly long delays, some waiting well over a year, for a decision on farm planning applications because of ammonia regulations.”

Mr Ferguson added: “The reality is that many farmers have already taken steps to reduce ammonia emissions on their farms. They are upgrading their buildings and can show that they are reducing their ammonia emissions.

“These farm planning applications must be allowed to progress. To do otherwise has the potential  to close Northern Ireland agriculture for business.”

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Showjumping at the Balmoral Show
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Hayden Tumelty with his Dexter cattle
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Conor Savage from Castlewellan preparing his Blondie cattle