Environment Committee update

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​The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) environment policy committee has had a packed agenda in recent months and has been actively engaged on a number of fronts representing the views of Northern Ireland farmers on environmental issues.

​Chaired by Portrush farmer Bill Harpur and aided by vice chair Ian Buchanan from Dungiven, the UFU environment committee is made up of representatives from each of the UFU policy committees ensuring that all sectors and all areas are represented.

Some of the main issues being discussed at UFU environment committee meetings currently are:

Climate change

With Stormont back up and running we can expect to see several issues progress this year.With Stormont back up and running we can expect to see several issues progress this year.
With Stormont back up and running we can expect to see several issues progress this year.

Climate change is a huge environmental challenge and one that the agricultural sector cannot ignore. The Union continues to highlight that agriculture can be part of the climate change solution with its ability to sequester carbon. We continue to monitor the science that is developing and highlight the need to recognise that methane is a short lived GHG.

The first Northern Ireland draft Climate Action Plan will soon be launched for consultation. It will set out plans and policies to deliver the reductions required in the first NI Carbon Budget which runs until 2027. The Northern Ireland Climate Change Act (2022) contains very tough targets for the whole of society. With limited budgets to deliver, the new Climate Change Act will present a very significant challenge for the NI Executive.

In addition to climate change legislation, there are increasing demands from retailers on this issue including the need for carbon footprinting to be carried out. The NI Carbon Footprinting Programme will be rolled out later this year. The UFU has been working to minimise the burden on local farmers as well as protecting the data that has been obtained from farms.

Office of Environmental Protection

The OEP is now established. It will operate in England and NI taking over the scrutiny role on the implementation of environmental law that would formerly have been carried out by the European Commission. The OEP also provides advice to government on environmental issues. The UFU has engaged with the OEP over the last year on water quality and designated sites.

Ammonia Strategy and Planning Operational Protocol

The environment committee led the UFU response to the DAERA Ammonia Strategy and subsequent ‘call for evidence’ on the air quality operational protocol which is used to assess some planning applications. The UFU employed a team of experts to put together a robust response including an economic analysis. Planning issues (and IPPC permits) linked to ammonia emissions, remain a very significant issue and we are concerned with the latest moves by NIEA to withdraw their existing ammonia standing advice for planning and have recently met NIEA on this. The concerns and frustrations of farmers around this issue were also raised with the new Minister following his appointment.

Farmers do need to be cautious when planning any development linked to livestock/poultry/slurry and should seek advice on planning permission regardless of the scale of the project before any work starts.

Farming with Nature

As DAERA seeks to develop the ‘Farming with Nature’ agri-environment scheme, the UFU has been meeting DAERA regularly for updates. A Farming with Nature pilot scheme is expected to be rolled out in the coming months.

Soil Health Nutrient Scheme

The committee are monitoring the role out of this scheme which aims to analyse soils across all farms in NI over four years. The UFU are represented on the Soils Scheme Liaison Group and are feeding back members views and experiences of the scheme. Farmers are encouraged to make the UFU aware of their views on the scheme so that the Union can raise with DAERA and AFBI, and any issues can be addressed.

What else?

With Stormont back up and running we can expect to see several issues progress this year such as the Environment Strategy, Biodiversity Strategy, Peatland Strategy and a review of the Nutrients Action Programme, and water quality measures. The committee will be involved in all of these policy areas.

The sustainability of agriculture is a key policy area for the Union and the focus on environmental sustainability has never been greater from the marketplace, the general public and government. It is vital that the voice of local farmers is heard and the UFU environment committee has placed a significant emphasis on highlighting the positive work and actions that farmers are already taking to maintain and improve the local environment. The committee will also continue to actively lobby DAERA, NIEA and MLAs on environmental issues highlighting the views of our members and arguing that there is a need for balance between food production and the environment.