Land use improvements vital: Irwin

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Chairman of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee, DUP MLA William Irwin, has given his full support to the Expert Working Group tasked to develop the Sustainable Land Management Strategy.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, members of the group headed by Dr John Gilliland gave the committee a presentation on their work undertaken to date.

Mr Irwin said he was supportive of the objectives of the working group, as he shared the view that grassland in Northern Ireland has huge potential for improved productivity which would be of direct benefit to the industry.

Mr Irwin stated: “As a dairy farmer I have a real interest in grassland and the productivity values of grass and soil with the right management. It was a useful engagement with the Expert Working Group at Tuesday’s committee meeting and I fully share the view that our grassland in Northern Ireland is hugely under performing, compared with what is achievable with the right intervention in terms of soil analysis and optimum grass varieties.

“Our growing potential here is I would say, the best in Europe – with our weather climate and soil potential, however as the members of the Expert Working Group stated, less than 10% of soils in Northern Ireland have a valid soil analysis. This means that the productivity values of vast swathes of agricultural grass land in Northern Ireland is unknown in terms of its actual growing and yield potential.

“With the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute working within my own constituency at Loughgall I know the valuable work they undertake with regards to grass varieties, soil analysis and there is a wealth of information available on just what can be achieved with the right soil management and best grass varieties suited to the conditions. I know that work undertaken by AFBI has shown that a 50% increase in grass yields is achievable and that is something that as an industry we cannot ignore.

“Grassland in Northern Ireland is our single biggest asset to our agri economy and for a situation to persist where this asset is under performing in terms of yield, is something that must be addressed.”

He concluded: “I will be keen to see the final report of the Expert Working Group which is due in the summer and it is important that momentum around this issue is maintained and that the recommendations of the group are carried forward to the obvious benefit of our industry and grassland assets in Northern Ireland.”