Major consultations to impact NI agriculture
While the weather and market prices dominate current discussions, it is vital that farmers don’t overlook the proposals coming down the line on planning controls around ammonia and carbon budgets which both will have very major implications for farmers and the agri-food sector.
A call for evidence on the ‘Future operational protocol to assess the impacts of air pollution on the natural environment’ was launched in July by the Department. This is a highly technical document that outlines potential options for revising the NIEA planning protocol that is used to give advice around ammonia to Planning Authorities (Councils) on farm planning applications or IPPC Permits and this advice almost always determines whether the application is passed or refused.
While the existing policy used to assess planning applications was extremely challenging, we are concerned that the new proposals could stop almost all development on livestock farms across Northern Ireland (NI) regardless of the size of development or scale of the farm. Despite what some in the industry think, permitted development is not a given and therefore this will have major implications for all farms regardless of size and will ripple into the wider agri-food sector and beyond.
NI farmers must be allowed to develop and modernize sustainably so they can reduce emissions and improve animal health and welfare while producing high-quality food for a growing population. If the ammonia planning protocol does not support them to do this, their farm will become inefficient, and it will be impossible for their business to remain competitive. Agri-businesses, rural economy, communities and consumers will be severely affected as a result, unless we find a balanced way forward that allows farmers to develop and deliver ammonia reductions.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has been seeking expert advice on all areas of this document and it will be discussed within the UFU structure to allow us to develop a robust response. However, the legislation around ammonia assessments is largely inflexible and this will be an uphill battle for the UFU and wider industry and is very concerning about the impact it will have.
A consultation on Carbon Budgets and seeking views on the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advice is also out for consultation until mid-October. This consultation follows on from the NI Climate Change Act agreed last year after months of debate within the NI Assembly. There was significant engagement from the farming community on this issue at the time the legislation was being developed.
However, it is vital that as a sector we don’t lose sight of the fact that this legislation now has to be delivered.
DAERA are asking for views on first three ‘Carbon Budgets’ and targets for 2030 and 2040. In line with the net zero by 2050 target that the majority of our MLAs signed up to against advice, these targets are very challenging and will require very significant changes across all aspects of society including agriculture if they are to be met and a substantial budget to deliver the required actions. While the targets have been set out, the policies and plans to deliver these targets have not been confirmed as this requires Ministers and an NI Executive to agree a ‘Climate Action Plan’. However, within the current consultation, DAERA have set out the advice of the CCC as to how these targets and budgets might be delivered. For agriculture the CCC has recommended reducing dairy cattle by 22%, beef cattle by 17% and sheep, pigs and poultry by 18% by 2030. Land use change options will mean freeing up agricultural land for forestry, bioenergy crops, peatland restoration etc, which will also impact on the arable sector. DAERA will consider all options and it will be up to politicians to agree the final plan. The UFU will continue to oppose compulsory livestock reductions and lobby to ensure that a balance is found between tackling climate change and producing food for a growing population.
Despite the current challenges facing local farmers, it is vital that as an industry we are aware of what is coming down the line. Both the ammonia and carbon budget documents will be the focus for UFU committees in the coming weeks with farmers elected to serve on these committees, representing farms of all sizes and sectors from all over NI, putting forward views on how we respond before the final positions are signed off by the overarching UFU executive committee.