Agriculture is the heart of the rural community of Northern Ireland and action is needed to ensure that it continues to develop and maintain a viable, profitable and environmentally friendly food industry.
This was the message of Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, in his address to the Oxford Agricultural Conference 2022, where he participated in a panel discussion on the future of agriculture, environment and policy rural areas in the four regions of the United Kingdom.
Minister Poots was accompanied by George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, England and Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Wales .
Minister Poots said: “Green growth means using the shift from a society with high greenhouse gas emissions to one with low greenhouse gas emissions to improve the quality of life of people through green jobs and a clean, resilient environment. Northern Ireland recently closed its doors and this strategy aims to take a holistic approach to properly tackle the climate crisis by balancing climate action with the environment and the economy in a way that benefits everyone. “
The 76th Oxford Agriculture Conference, held virtually this year, is the UK’s premier international conference for agriculture and agribusiness. Its aim is to explore the different approaches adopted across the UK; the emphasis on promoting public goods as opposed to production, the need to address biodiversity and climate challenges and the importance of supporting rural communities. The theme of this year’s conference is “Roads to Resilience”.
Continuing, the Minister said: ‘After leaving the EU I now have a unique opportunity to redefine agricultural policy in Northern Ireland for the first time in almost 50 years and my aim is to integrate better policy. adapted to local needs and which will ensure and guarantee the long-term sustainability of the entire industry. In August, I published the Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio for Northern Ireland, setting out my vision for the future direction of agricultural support. In it, I stated that “business as usual for many farms will not be an option” – higher productivity growth in our agribusiness, through science, innovation and knowledge transfer, must be carried out in a manner compatible with improving environmental sustainability.
“Many farmers are already investing in green technologies and adopting environmentally friendly farming practices, but there is still a long way to go. We must ensure that excess nutrients do not seep into our waterways, that ammonia emissions are reduced to restore the health of vulnerable habitats. , we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels and find less harmful ways to heat our homes and businesses and power our vehicles, to ensure that agriculture plays its fair share in our journey to net zero carbon and that loss of biodiversity is halted and reversed. “
Other topics covered during the debate included the development of new technologies such as gene editing, as well as issues surrounding the supply chain and the future of the UK Single Market.
On potential future trade deals, the minister warned of the high level of risk these could pose to farmers in Northern Ireland and the UK, saying that “the greatest impact on producers is ‘Northern Ireland free trade agreements is the loss of UK market share given that Northern Ireland is a net exporter of agri-food products and Britain is our largest market, accounting for around 70% of the value of beef and sheep meat processed in NI.
“While some aspects of the new agreements will benefit exporters from Northern Ireland, I am concerned that the new agreements do not provide adequate protection for British agricultural producers. The UK-UK Free Trade Agreement Australia is of concern, in particular the size of the tariff rate quotas that have been agreed upon for beef and mutton products, as these quotas are, in my opinion, too large to offer protection to domestic producers and after 15 years it there will be no more quotas will be abolished after five years.
Concluding Minister Poots said: “My ambition is for Northern Ireland to be a world-class food region, recognized for its sustainability, quality, safety, authenticity and knowledge-based approach. When it comes to the recovery and the future of COVID-19, we also have an opportunity to transform our food system for future generations and to help achieve health, social, environmental and economic goals. There are significant challenges, but I think there is also huge potential as we continue to innovate and think differently. With well-designed policy interventions and innovation, all of this can be achieved without compromising the economic viability of the agriculture / agri-food sector. “