As an arable farmer myself, I fully understand the difficult situation facing the sector as outlined in Richard Halleron’s article on the 4th of May, “Arable needs must be addressed.”
It is a concern for many reasons, not least the financial implications but also the protection and restoration of nature and the environment.
When managed with nature in mind, arable farmland can play a crucial role in providing a mix of habitats in the wider landscape for a range of different species, from threatened birds such as the Yellowhammer and Barn owl to rare arable plants and mammals such as the Irish hare. Yet, since 1940, the area of arable land under cultivation in NI has declined by nearly three quarters. The loss of diversity in land use, making way for intensive grassland has played a major role in the loss of biodiversity in the countryside.
Northern Ireland needs a vibrant arable sector which supports the species that depend upon it and provides a proper financial return. Government action in this regard will be key. The design of the current Wider Environmental Farming Scheme could have done much more to provide attractive incentives to arable farm businesses which are well placed for delivering more for nature.
In the future, with a clearer focus on farming with nature, we must prioritise the value of arable farming and the vital contribution it can deliver for a vibrant and thriving countryside.
Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Northern Ireland