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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 11:14 GMT
Welcome for cuts to farming red tape
By Martin Cassidy
BBC NI rural affairs correspondent

The executive says it is aiming to deliver a more competitive farming and food industry while cutting down on the amount of paperwork with which farming families have to deal.

The executive is accused of missing opportunities for farming

The promise to deliver a 25% reduction in agricultural bureaucracy by 2013 has been welcomed by the Ulster Farmers' Union which is questioning why it will take so long to reduce the administrative burden.

Farmers, too, have welcomed the emphasis on economic development, innovation and export growth - after all the farming and food industry is Northern Ireland's largest private sector employer providing jobs for 70,000 people.

The executive's scope to develop farming policy is, of course, limited by the European Common Agricultural Policy but the executive is aiming to help local farms become more competitive.

Ministers have earmarked 45m of the rural development budget to this end and hope that increased funding for research and development will help local livestock and arable farms gain an edge by having access to the latest science.

But the executive is also being accused of missing opportunities to promote the local farming and food sector.

The Ulster Farmers' Union says the Scottish Parliament decision to develop a National Food Policy, should be replicated in the Northern Ireland programme for government.

There are calls over labelling of foods such as lamb

Farmers, too, are calling for greater public procurement of local food.

"Sourcing home-grown or reared food, could give a great boost to the agri-food industry, by re-investing public money into our industry and boosting economic growth," said President of the Ulster Farmers' Union Kenneth Sharkey.

Many farmers, too, are beginning to question if the programme for government matches the commitment of the Irish government to its local produce.

It was prompt action in curbing foot and mouth disease which helped the previous assembly develop its relationship with the farming community

There have also been calls for a more comprehensive country of origin labelling to be introduced for products such as beef, lamb, pork and poultry.

But the executive has already proved ready to take bold steps to find additional resources to help local farms meet tough new environmental standards.

The planned sale of the Plant Testing Station at Crossnacreevy will allow ministers to find the money to help fund a huge building programme on local farms.

More than 4,000 farmers will now benefit from from grant support to construct new slurry tanks - a move designed to help Northern Ireland comply with the European Nitrates Directive.

It was prompt action in curbing foot and mouth disease which helped the previous assembly develop its relationship with the farming community.

But bovine Tuberculosis and Brucellosis are more insidious and ultimately may prove more draining diseases on the executive's funds.

Farmers may like to see more challenging targets than the 27% reduction in TB by 2011 and 20% in the incidence of Brucellosis.

But as the programme for government indicates, eliminating both diseases is about the long haul and continuing investment by the executive.

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