If farmers are to enter the post-Brexit era with confidence, they need practical support
A demonstration organised by Save British Farming of go-slow tractors and farming supporters in Parliament Square in Westminster, London, July 2020 | PA Images
Suicide rates in farming are among the highest of any occupational group. At this time of change, government must alleviate the pressures faced by these unique communities
It is an honour to be the Member of Parliament for Strangford. We have it all: global industry, thriving high street, and a hard-working, close-knit community. And this part of Northern Ireland is a farmer’s dream.
For the skilful farmer, the soil in Strangford can yield not just the standard two harvests per year, but three. We have some of the best grazing land which leads to our beef and dairy industry being world renowned. Yet it is not a land of milk and honey. Our rural community faces many challenges, not least at this time of change and our unique situation post-Brexit.
Take our potatoes; the Comber spud – which has protected geographical indication (PGI) status under European law – needs leave to be grown and travel the world in whatever form it takes. The border in the Irish Sea throws up difficulties not simply for potatoes but for milk and mixed milk products. While grateful for additional funding for the Trader Support Service, I know that my local farmers are at a loss as to what the next six months will bring, and they need dedicated help and support.
The fishing sector which was once so vibrant is also left in a similar position; hope for better days ahead but uncertainty as to how this will actually pan out. They need dedicated government support to rebuild the industry, and they need practical as well as financial input from Westminster.
These issues in my rural constituency are somewhat unique to Northern Ireland and yet there are others which unite every rural constituency, such as rural isolation. I read a troubling report that, within the UK, one farmer a week dies by suicide. This is the most tangible proof of rural isolation.
Every farmer is raised with a ‘get up and get on with it’ attitude, and yet farming can be incredibly isolating and time consuming. For this reason, I have raised this issue several times in the House to try to press for more support for the farming communities throughout the UK.
There are also the concerns with connectivity, with many rural areas having terrible broadband connection. While roll-out of fibre optic broadband is almost complete in Northern Ireland we still retain pockets of those unable to access the internet, and these are within rural areas. The ability to diversify and modernise farming for the next generation requires modern and reliable equipment; this needs to be the case for every rural farm in this UK.
I am grateful to represent Strangford with its beauties and challenges and I believe there is more to come from our ‘wee’ rural community in this corner of this wonderful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern: more agri-food jobs, more artisan producers, more industry jobs, more investment potential to be fulfilled. And I intend to battle in for Strangford and every other rural constituency who is deserving of the time and attention of Parliament.
The people of Strangford will get up and get on with post-Brexit life. But we need to ensure the quality of that life matches what Strangford gives – the best of British, stronger together.
Jim Shannon is DUP MP for Strangford