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Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots MLA yesterday joined a webinar to celebrate 75 years of the Oxford Farming Conference.

The online event theme was ‘A Farming Business Fit for the Future’ and the Minister was joined by his other UK counterparts, Defra Secretary of State George Eustice MP, Scottish Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing and Welsh Minister Lesley Griffiths.

Speaking during the event, the Minister said: “I joined my three UK counterparts yesterday at this great online event to celebrate 75 years of this fine agri-food institution. The Oxford Farming Conference has provided a much valued knowledge sharing forum over the years and is a world renowned leader in farming advice and strategy.

“As I approach the end of my first year in office it has been one of the most dramatic and challenging years in living memory. Whilst Covid-19 has severely impacted our industry and all our lives for most of 2020, the UK has now left the EU and most particularly the CAP. Against this background I see tremendous opportunities and room to manoeuvre like we have not had in almost 50 years.”

Discussing his vision for the future farming policy in Northern Ireland, he said ‘‘My vision for future agriculture in Northern Ireland is defined around four outcomes: increased productivity, environmental sustainability, improved resilience and supply chain integration. Moving forward, we must join up our environmental ambitions with farm economic activity.

“Leaving the EU restores our discretion and flexibility with regard to future agricultural support in Northern Ireland. It opens the way to creating a new dynamic for key stakeholders across the food, agricultural and environmental spectrum to work with the Northern Ireland government to chart a new way forward with common purpose. For this to be successful, it is vital that the long-term outcomes of productivity, environmental sustainability, resilience and supply chain functionality are kept to the fore, which will demand clear analysis based on sound evidence, compromises where necessary and strong leadership at all levels.

“I want to devise support schemes that provide opportunities for all of Northern Ireland’s farmers; no farmer should be left behind. Farm businesses, no matter where they farm, should become more efficient and maximise the sustainable returns they can achieve from the assets at their disposal.

“These assets include the environmental assets on the farm, and I believe that farms, especially those in the hills and other disadvantaged areas, are well placed to play a major role in delivering more of the environmental outcomes the people who live in Northern Ireland want and that we owe future generations. And I believe that farmers should be properly rewarded for delivering these environmental outcomes and achieve a return on the environmental assets present on their farms."

The Minister concluded his address, saying: “My ultimate aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland takes full advantage of the opportunity to develop a sustainable agricultural industry in which all farmers are supported on an equitable basis to make best use of the assets at their disposal, and to invest in all forms of capital – physical, environmental and human.”