Sinn Féin MLA and Vice Chair of the Stormont’s Agriculture Committee Philip McGuigan has said that Covid 19 has shown the importance of a safe, secure local food supply chain and the Agriculture and food production sector must play a central role in the North’s economic recovery.
Speaking after a debate on the Economic recovery from Covid 19 the North Antrim MLA said:
“There are roughly 25,000 farms across the North, and they support the employment of 48,000 people across the food and drink industry. This is a huge contributor to our economy, with a £4·5 billion turnover last year. I want to pay tribute to our farmers and the sector for their contribution during this crisis. In North Antrim, given its rural nature, we are well aware of how important agriculture is to our local economy.
“There is no doubt that agriculture is under pressure at the minute. There are poor profit margins, the cost of production exceeds farm-gate prices and there are rising input costs every year.
“The single farm payment which accounts for over 80% of income for farmers, even before the COVID pandemic, was decreasing year-on-year. Last year, we saw a 26% decrease in their incomes.
“That is very stark in some sectors, particularly for farmers in the Areas of Natural Constraint, which are mostly beef and sheep farmers, as we have across North Antrim.
“Any future economic recovery has to look at agriculture and food production across the island. Unfettered access north, south, east and west is very important to us.
“Brexit has created further problems because the British market is so crucial to here. We export 87% of our agri-food and most of this is to Britain. But the failure of the British Government to incorporate minimum food standards in their Agriculture Bill has opened the door to Britain importing cheap, low-standard food, which will more than likely destroy the British market for farmers exporting from here. We need to look throughout the rest of Ireland and beyond to the EU and other places to find new markets.”