Pressure builds for ‘bespoke’ arable support scheme

​The Ulster Arable Society (UAS) is calling for the introduction of bespoke measures to support crop production in Northern Ireland.
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UAS president, Barclay Bell, has confirmed that representatives from the organisation will meet policy development officials with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs next month to discuss the matter.

He confirmed these developments, courtesy of his presentation to the 2024 UAS Conference, held earlier this week.

UFU seeds and cereals chair Christopher Gill, UAS chair Barclay Bell and CAFRE senior agriculture adviser Robin Bolton. Pic: UFUUFU seeds and cereals chair Christopher Gill, UAS chair Barclay Bell and CAFRE senior agriculture adviser Robin Bolton. Pic: UFU
UFU seeds and cereals chair Christopher Gill, UAS chair Barclay Bell and CAFRE senior agriculture adviser Robin Bolton. Pic: UFU

Bell further explained:

“A joint report published by UAS and the Ulster Farmers’ Union back in 2021 confirmed the very sustainable nature of crop production.

“Arable farming have the lower carbon footprint of any other sector within production agriculture.

“And yet this reality is not recognised, in any way, within the new farm support measures that will be rolled out over the next couple of years.”

He continued:

“UAS will make the case for the development of a robust and sustainable arable sector in Northern Ireland.”

The UAS president reflected on the many challenges that had confronted cereal and potato producers throughout 2023. These included atrocious weather, high input costs and poor farm gate prices at and post-harvest.

He commented:

“Last year turned out to be the third wettest year on record. It was a snatch and grab harvest for many farmers with some potato growers facing the prospect of heavy losses in the wake of last autumn’s floods.

While admitting that last year followed-on directly from what could only be described as the near perfect harvest of 2022, Barclay Bell confirmed that 2023 saw arable incomes falling by 50%.

And this decline would have been even more significant, and it not been for the availability of the single payment support scheme.

He referenced the very clear steps now being taken by the tillage sector in the Republic of Ireland to come up with schemes that will underpin its future development.

“And we want to see the same course of action taken here in Northern Ireland,” he stressed.

A key priority identified in the 2021 Ulster Arable Society: Ulster Farmers Union joint report was that of securing, for so long as is necessary, support from public funds to provide farmers and growers with the financial reward needed to sustain vibrant farm families.

This would also ensure that farm and horticulture businesses can deliver both efficient production and environmental benefits.

It was also envisaged that both economic and environmental benefit would be obtained through an increase in the area of arable crops grown locally.

According to the report, there is negligible release of ammonia from arable enterprises so their indirect impact on biodiversity is much less than livestock enterprises.

In addition, specialist tillage/arable farms in Ireland emit 1.18t C02 equivalent per hectare. This is just 15% of the rate for dairy farms and 25% of that for beef farms.

The report concludes that, with increasing concern about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, crop production has a relatively low carbon footprint, compared to livestock production.

As a result, it is well placed to contribute to this reduction locally and globally by substituting for livestock production and replacing imported feed ingredients.