Byline: RICHARD MULLIGAN
THE expertise of the farmers in Northern Ireland must not be allowed to die, but if the current depression in agriculture continues there is the strong possibility that a generation of farmers will be lost and with them a world of expertise, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly said this week.
Billy Armstrong was speaking to the Assembly on the Programme for Government.
He said: "Historically and indeed for generations agriculture has been one of Northern Ireland's most principal industries. We must not let this vital industry slip by the wayside and diminish into another old tradition of Northern Ireland. We cannot let the expertise of our farmers to die - if the current depression in agriculture continues we could lose a generation of farmers and therefore lose a world of expertise."
Mr Armstrong said a retirement scheme was also necessary to give the elderly or tired farmer a respectable and rewarding way to leave the industry and encourage the young person there is a future for them. Farmers have worked on the land for decades and they deserve and gratifying scheme under which to retire.
He said the majority of farmers within Northern Ireland have, over the years, worked continuously to a rigorous regime where goods are produced to the highest standards possible. This must be recognised and promoted across the world.
Through scares of food shortage across Europe in the 1960's and 70's farmers have been encouraged or persuaded to go into a high level of factory farming as advised by Government.
"In this new era of consumer demand for quality, instead of volume, along with the high value of Sterling against all European currencies Northern Ireland needs to look toward niche markets. This same philosophy is relevant for all industries," he added.
He went on: "Government must also improve conditions for industry and tourism if goods are to be moved easily within Northern Ireland and to docks and ports. There has to be a higher priority given to the maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure. Our docks and airports will have to be improved and enhanced for the export of goods and the import of tourists which will in turn increase the economic growth of Northern Ireland."
Mr Armstrong said that Northern Ireland needed to retain its ability to grow its own food.
He told the Assembly that there were too many people who thought the country could survive by relying totally on the world market.
Mr Armstrong said that as not only the programme for Government, but a programme for everyone in Northern Ireland there must be encouragement to support locally produced goods, not only our agricultural products but all goods that are manufactured and services that are provided within Northern Ireland.
"To sustain a viable and prosperous Northern Ireland we cannot depend solely on others to buy our produce if we cannot support our own industries. The …