Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) agriculture spokesperson, Tom Elliott, has expressed his deep concern about the impact of bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB) on farming families in Northern Ireland. Speaking to Agriland, Elliott noted that the problem is particularly severe in his own constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He stressed that while there is an implication for the public purse in terms of bTB compensation, it is impossible to put a value on a farmer’s life work. The removal of an entire herd of animals in one fell swoop is seen by farmers as the destruction of a lifetime’s work, with immense mental tolls on farmers and their families.
According to Elliott, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has been testing and strategising for decades to reduce bTB, but the current system is not working. The negative impact on the farming community is massive, with herds being wiped out and generations of dedicated breeding by farmers totally eliminated. The mental impact and stress on individuals is generally unseen, and the cost to the public for compensation and the removal of these animals from farms is significant. Elliott believes that a new and vigorous approach to dealing with bovine TB is urgently required, with immediate action needed to reduce the levels of TB in badger and deer populations.
Elliott made these comments while visiting this year’s Balmoral Show, where he also expressed concern about the pressure on dairy farm margins at present. Milk producers are coming under pressure on a number of fronts, with farm gate milk prices having fallen significantly since the turn of the year, while input costs have remained at historically high levels.
The UK government recently announced the Northern Ireland budget for 2023/2024, which has caused concern for Elliott. Without a Northern Ireland Executive, the UK government has set a budget for local departments, but the financial outcome falls far short of what departments require to adequately function. The budget allocation to DAERA has suffered a significant reduction, which Elliott believes may be a blackmail tactic to pressurise those not currently reforming a local Executive. These cuts will put significant added pressure onto the agricultural industry.
Looking to the issue of future government support for farming in Northern Ireland, Elliott highlighted the differences in farming practices followed in England. Without a Stormont Executive, the local farming sector could easily be subject to a support system that is much more sympathetic to the English farming and environmental system, but not Northern Ireland. As usual, the local farming sector is potentially going to feel further pressure due to aspects over which it has no direct control.
It is clear that the impact of bovine TB on farming families in Northern Ireland is significant and requires urgent attention. The mental toll on farmers and their families cannot be overstated, and the cost to the public for compensation and removal of animals is significant. A new and vigorous approach to dealing with bovine TB is urgently required, with immediate action needed to reduce the levels of TB in badger and deer populations. The Northern Ireland budget for 2023/2024 has caused concern for Elliott, with significant reductions in funding for DAERA likely to put added pressure on the agricultural industry. Without a Stormont Executive, the local farming sector could be subject to a support system that is not sympathetic to Northern Ireland’s unique farming practices and environment.