South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has said that growing the agribusiness sector must be at the heart of economic policy in Northern Ireland.
Ms Ritchie, who sits on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at Westminster, was addressing an Agenda NI seminar on Agriculture and Food at the Dunadry Hotel this morning.
Speaking afterwards, she said: “The agriculture sector in the North of Ireland has a gross output of £4bn and is one of our strongest-growing sectors. I want to see that continue.
“It is notable that, south of the border, the Irish government has been quick to recognise the importance of the agri-food sector as a key driver in the national economy and have committed to growing that industry by 30-40% before 2020. It is at the centre of their economic programme and it should be at the centre of ours.
“Key to that will be attaining a sound outcome from Common Agricultural Policy reforms in Europe.
“The total farm income in Northern Ireland in 2011 was £308m of which £267m came from the Single Farm Payment – the impact of the planned reforms will be felt throughout the agri-food industry.
“I will be putting the case to my EFRA colleagues that we should be arguing for an approach closer to that put forward by the Irish environment minister who is calling for an approximation model for CAP which would allow a gradual move towards a flat area-based payment but retaining bands above and below the national level. Central to all of this is an immediate resolution to the budget for the European Union.
“All of this is in sharp contrast to the UK government who seem set on a reckless and sudden withdrawal from CAP altogether – they are playing politics with the livelihoods of thousands.”