Agricultural Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 13th April 2021.

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Photo of Jemma Dolan Jemma Dolan Sinn Féin 12:15 pm, 13th April 2021

2. Ms Dolan asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for an update on the development of a future agricultural policy. (AQO 1835/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

In 2018, DAERA undertook an engagement exercise, gathering a broad range of stakeholders' views on future agricultural policy. Those views and further stakeholder engagement have been central to developing my vision for future agriculture in Northern Ireland.

My Department is now at an advanced stage in the development of a draft policy framework portfolio, which I hope to publish in the coming months. The framework has been defined around the four key outcomes of increased productivity, improved resilience, environmental sustainability and improved supply chain functionality. As that work continues in the years ahead, we will continue to engage with our farmers, land managers and environmental stakeholders to co-design new agricultural policies.

Photo of Jemma Dolan Jemma Dolan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. Minister, will you outline your intention on entitlements? Will you continue those in the development of a future agricultural policy?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Before I arrive at any fixed positions, I want to engage with the industry and, indeed, the Assembly and the Committee. We should have a fit-for-purpose agricultural payment policy. We will also need to reflect that in our climate change policy and ensure that farmers who may lose some of their grazing lands because we need to wet peatlands etc are adequately compensated. We need to look at the support that is provided for hill farmers, in particular, to keep suckler cows and sheep and to ensure that those hills are well utilised. We also need to consider whether we want to support suckler cows on lowlands or whether, because of sexed semen, for example, the beef would come from the dairy herd and there would be no requirement to incentivise farmers to keep suckler cows on the lowlands.

Those are all issues for discussion and debate. I do not have fixed positions on them. It would be wrong to have those before identifying the views of the public and, indeed, the Assembly.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Minister, have you determined a change in the departmental policy on the final decision-making power of the DAERA appeals process yet?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Legally, it would appear that it ends with the Minister, but I have made it very clear that this Minister has no intention of overturning the views that have been expressed by an independent panel. Unfortunately, that was not the case for many years, and quite a number of appeal cases that went to the independent panel were overturned. I disagree with that. There is no point in having an independent panel and the Minister then being lobbied by officials and overturning the views of the independent panel. It is a much fairer process if someone goes to an independent panel and makes their case and argument and it is accepted that the Minister will accept the decision of that panel.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Minister, will future agricultural policy involve significant further investment in sustainable farming systems? Those will be key not just to a COVID recovery but to a green recovery.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Yes, absolutely. I have asked my officials to work up a bid to be made to the Department of Finance. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we need to recognise that it will involve making a significant investment. We will seek the Department of Finance's support in making that significant investment and supporting the farming community, in particular, to engage, where they can, in activities that will significantly reduce the carbon footprint and increase carbon capture. It is critical that we work across the Executive on that course of work.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

We have worked through a number of threads in the responses. Will the Minister confirm whether there will be a specific Bill that is tailored to Northern Ireland? He mentioned that a number of policy areas will be looked at, but will there be a specific Bill for that purpose?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

That would be a decision for the next Minister, after the election, whoever that happens to be. Timewise, I do not think that we would be able to introduce an agricultural Bill during the lifetime of this Assembly, which runs to May 2022.