A DELEGATION from the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has attended a series of events in London, including meeting Home Secretary Priti Patel, as part of a public facing campaign Back British Farming Day on September 15.
UFU president Victor Chestnutt, chief executive Wesley Aston and parliamentary officer Alexander Kinnear began the day by attending a breakfast to celebrate Back British Farming Day in the House of Commons, and were involved in the launch of NFU’s Food report, which was attended by new farming advocate Jeremy Clarkson.
UFU president Victor Chestnutt said: “We were delighted to be able to travel to London to show our support for Back British Farming Day alongside NFU, NFU Scotland and NFU Cymru.
“It is a great opportunity to champion our local food production and the importance of the agri food industry to the environment, UK economy and our local communities.”
Throughout the day the UFU held meetings with MPs, including those from Northern Ireland.
“We met with MPs from Alliance, DUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein, and with the chair of the Commons EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP,” added Mr Chestnutt.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol, labour availability, climate change and TB controls were key discussion points.
“Labour availability was picked up on once again during our meeting with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, facilitated by the DUP. Northern Ireland processors are experiencing a serious shortage of employees and it has quickly become a pressing issue within the agri-food industry. Now is the time to follow this up by putting forward a case for an introduction of urgent measures to address the matter,” said Mr Chestnutt.
Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart, along with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, and Ian Paisley, MP, joined the UFU in its meeting with the Home Secretary to stress the need for flexibility on immigration rules to address current labour shortages in the agri-food sector.
Ms Lockhart said: “This was an excellent opportunity to really press home the challenges facing the agri-food industry. Labour shortages are causing real and immediate stresses and strains within the food supply chain.
“The issues within the pig sector for example are well versed. It is important that the Government has a clear picture of the problem, and we brought potential solutions forward that we hope can be brought about soon.”
Mr Paisley added: “To have the most productive agri-food industry we need to have processes working at optimum capacity. That is not the case at the moment, with some processors crying out for butchers and other operatives but simply unable to find them within the local workforce.
“As the lifeblood of our economy, we need this issue fixed for farmers and processors to ensure the industry grows into the future, with no unnecessary impediment to that growth.”
Sir Jeffrey added: “Our agri-food sector is the backbone of our economy. As the UK’s trading relationships around the world recalibrate, I wanted to use this meeting to emphasise to the Home Secretary that the Government must use its independence from the EU to set rules which best suit our core sectors.
“That means they must be flexible. When sectors are lacking skills our immigration rules must be adaptable to take account of those pressures.
“I have also outlined to the Government the difficulties the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing and will be raising these directly with the Prime Minister in due course.
“We need permanent solutions which work.
“Not a Protocol which cut us off from the rest of the United Kingdom, our main trading partner. No more kicking the can down the road. Every sector needs certainty.”