We are at an extremely important juncture in terms of farming and the Agri-food industry.
I have always believed and advocated a well-funded, flexible and fair CAP reform.
While others voted for cuts to the EU budget, I have always supported the position that recognises the importance of agriculture to the north of Ireland and argued for the maximum amount of funding.
There was a historical imbalance in how the current allocation of EU funding was distributed. Allocations based on production levels in 2002 resulted in inequality – particularly in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas.
We are moving to a flat rate of payments now which I support and would be hopeful that the Minister moves on this sooner rather than later.
In addition we see no logic to the proposal to split the north in two or three regions for the purposes of payments other than to maintain the status quo and protect larger farmers in the lowlands
Therefore we support the position that the north should be designated as one region.
We do not want to see agricultural partition of the north of Ireland which would see a lesser rate of Single Farm Payment in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas.
These are potentially exciting times for the agri-food sector. Agri-food has remained strong through the recession and has huge potential to grow even stronger on the back of the Going for Growth strategy. Therefore it was unfortunate to say the least that the court case taken by the DUP resulted in the funding not being transferred from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 for that strategy to be progressed.
The transferred funding would have provided capital grants to farmers for erecting new sheds, fencing etc, which farmers have been calling for.
However we now need to see the Executive step up to the mark, and find the funding for this strategy so that its targets can be realised in the absence of the Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 transfer. What needs to be clear is that this strategy has the potential for 15,000 new jobs, the potential of £1.4 billion of private sector investment and the potential for increasing our output and exports by 60%.