Proposed legislation that would guarantee NI farmers receive prices above the cost of production along with a margin, has been dismissed as “not feasible” by Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir.

The proposed bill, which was drafted in 2020, has been the centre-point of a long-running campaign led by Farmers For Action (FFA) in NI.

However, the DAERA minister is not on board. “It would make our exports uncompetitive, which, for a sector dependent upon exports, would be disastrous,” said Minister Muir when answering MLA questions at Stormont on Monday.

He added that to prevent domestic production being replaced by imports, it would then be necessary to put economic controls in place to stop goods from other countries coming into NI. “That would be very controversial,” he said.

The Minister argued that if farmers are guaranteed prices to cover costs, input suppliers could then increase the cost of their goods, knowing that government would have to adjust farm-gate prices accordingly.

He also pointed out that the issues raised by FFA are effectively reserved matters for the UK government. “As such, the NI Assembly and DAERA have no remit to introduce minimum price legislation on farm-gate prices,” said Minister Muir.

Muir criticises “Going for Growth”

Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir has said he would not have agreed to the recommendations made in the 2013 “Going for Growth” report if he had been the minister in place at the time.

Answering questions in the Assembly chamber on Monday, he said he was very aware of the policy and the impact it has had on DAERA. The “Going for Growth” report was produced by the Agri-Food Strategy Board, with a subsequent action plan signed off by Ministers Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster on behalf of the Stormont Executive.

“In the weeks and months ahead, I will make statements about the future direction of the policy. Let me be clear: I would not have signed off on Going for Growth,” said Minister Muir.

MLAs call for new environment body

The NI Assembly backed a motion put forward by the SDLP on Monday which called for an independent environmental protection agency to be established in NI.

Speaking during the debate, DAERA Minister Andrew Muir confirmed that his department officials have recently completed “scoping work on environmental governance”.

“It is right that we move to the next stage, which is looking at the way forward and potentially consulting on an independent environmental protection agency,” the Alliance MLA said.

Farming With Nature hit with delays

The rollout of a proposed new agri environment scheme for NI has been delayed, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.

A pilot scheme under the new Farming With Nature package was originally planned for late 2023, but it now appears that the scheme will not start until 2025 at the earliest.

Giving an update on new farm support schemes on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir acknowledged that the agri environment scheme has fallen behind schedule.

“Although work on the Farming With Nature package is not as advanced as other schemes that I have mentioned, I have asked my officials to prioritise that area of work over the coming months,” he said.