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Agriculture after Brexit… where next for Northern Ireland?

05 Sep 2018 | Michael McGilligan


Brexit presents several concerns for Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK to share a land border with an EU Member State. However, according to BVA Policy Officer Michael McGilligan it is an opportunity to reshape the system of agricultural support.

Vets play a crucial role in Northern Ireland agriculture, from the farm-gate to border checks and everywhere in between. Now, we are at a crucial point where the voice of the veterinary profession Government needs to be heard.

Northern Ireland Context

Already, BVA has put forward a veterinary vision for post-Brexit agriculture policy placing animal health and welfare as public goods at the centre. This is a general vision that can be applied across the UK and meet the needs of each devolved jurisdiction. As BVA, Junior Vice President Simon Doherty said when he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee:

“The BVA position is that we are very much in favour of […] health and welfare, leading to improved productivity. That goes right across the whole United Kingdom and is not particularly special to Northern Ireland. It is special to Northern Ireland when we talk about some of the specifics around small farms, the land border, surveillance and so on.”

We know agriculture in Northern Ireland is different than in Great Britain. Northern Ireland has the smallest average farm size within the UK. Northern Ireland is most reliant on agriculture in terms of the share of total employment and Northern Ireland farmers are more dependent on direct payments than their counterparts. It has been estimated that EU subsidies provide 87 per cent of total farming income in Northern Ireland. It appears this dependence that has largely shaped DAERA’s proposals.

DAERA proposals

Initially DEARA wants to maintain the status quo of payments until 2021. After this, The Northern Ireland consultation document has the following outcomes which are largely focussed on the economic viability of the farm sector:

  1. Increased productivity in international terms;
  2. Improved resilience to external shocks;
  3. An agriculture industry that is environmentally sustainable; and
  4. An industry which operates within an integrated, efficient, sustainable, competitive and responsive supply chain.

DAERA plans to use all the tools available to government – science, education, incentivisation and regulation –to help to deliver all of these outcomes.

What is largely absent from the document is an emphasis on animal health and welfare, as well as the vital input of vets towards the operation of a thriving agricultural sector. This is why it is so important for the veterinary profession in Northern Ireland to engage with this consultation.

Have your say

These suggestions are still at an early stage. There is an opportunity today for vets to engage and influence the final detailed policy. We will be responding to the consultation and I’m keen to hear from all members interested in the future of agriculture in Northern Ireland. You can send me your thoughts via [email protected] by 3 October 2018.


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