Farm Ireland

Tuesday 19 February 2019

UK farm payments to be paid at current levels for four years

But Ulster farmers warn of threat to British food security

British Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove
British Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has welcomed confirmation by UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, that funding for agriculture will be retained at current levels until 2022 at least.

However, Northern Ireland's farm body warned that the UK's food security could be jeopardised by what he described as an imbalance of funding in favour of the environment and away from food production.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference last week Mr Gove said current farm payments would be honoured for the next four years, with the possibility of them being extended until 2024.

UFU president, Barclay Bell, said Mr Gove's comments was positive news for farmers.

But Mr Gove told the Oxford conference that funding for farming beyond 2022 would be linked to the delivery of public goods.

Citing his desire to deliver a green Brexit, he said more of the €2.9bn currently spent on the basic payment scheme would be targeted at rewarding farmers for opening up the countryside and other environmental initiatives.

Mr Gove said actions such as the retention of wildflower meadows, planting greater numbers of trees and protecting habitats would also attract greater financial support.

But Mr Bell warned that redirecting funding away from core farming activities would be counterproductive.

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"We need a balanced approach and Mr Gove must recognise the overwhelming importance of food production and food security," the UFU leader said.

"Farmers can deliver environmental goods but if funding is not there to support food security, the UK's reliance on imported food will increase. This would undermine local food production and drive down food and environmental standards," Mr Bell argued.

"The funding farmers receive is not a luxury. Without it most family farms in Northern Ireland would not be viable.

"By producing food and looking after the countryside, farmers deliver jobs and environmental benefits for society - and the government has given this welcome recognition," he said.

Northern Ireland's farmers receive €310 million in CAP payments each year.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove insisted that the British government intended to create a new "gold-standard" for food labelling to signify British quality after Brexit.

"I want us, outside the EU, to develop new approaches to food labelling. Not just badging food properly as British, but also creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality," he said.

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