Environmental updates

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The UFU Environmental Policy Committee has been actively engaged on a number of fronts representing the views of Northern Ireland farmers on environmental issues.

The UFU Environmental Policy Committee comprises representatives drawn from all the Union’s Policy Committees therefore ensuring that all sectors are represented.

John McLenaghan, a poultry and dairy farmer from Garvagh currently chairs the committee with Cookstown beef farming Wilbert Mayne, serving as Vice Chairman. Some the main issues of attention at UFU Environmental Committee meetings currently are:

Nitrates Action Programme: The Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and derogation is under review by the EC. It is expected that a decision will be made on renewing the nitrates derogation at a meeting in Brussels next week.

The UFU have been lobbying hard to ensure officials fight for the best deal possible for Northern Ireland farmers during negotiations with the EC in Brussels on the back of further improvements in water quality.

Some changes to the NAP will be introduced in 2015 and while we still have some concerns, to UFU activity has ensured that these are much less onerous than what was originally proposed by DARD/DOE and the EC.

The committee continue to lobby Government, particularly NIEA, to ensure that the legislation is implemented in a practical and workable manner and the Union will continue to assist UFU members with the record keeping element and preparing for inspections.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency: The UFU has been addressing concerns of members around the approach and workings of NIEA with local farmers. The Union have had regular meetings with the NIEA Chief Executive and other officials. The UFU Environment Committee have identified a number of key areas where we believe that action needs to be taken to improve the interaction between NIEA and farmers on the ground. The Committee will continue to take this forward in further meetings and it is hoped that the out workings of these discussions will start to roll out on the ground in the New Year.

Hedge Cutting Closed Period: The UFU have been lobbying for changes to the current hedge cutting closed period dates. Following moves in England to introduce more flexibility the Committee have been working to ensure that a similar approach is introduced in NI. It is positive that the Minister has agreed to look at introducing a derogation for cutting in August under specific circumstances. While we would prefer to see a shift in the dates entirely, the UFU believes that this should go some of the way in helping ease pressure on farmers.

Agri-Environment Schemes: The committee continually discuss delivery and monitoring of the existing agri-environment schemes in Northern Ireland. Representatives from DARD attended the last meeting of the Environment Committee to update on progress on the new Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) which will be delivered as part of the 2014-2020 NI Rural Development Programme. Unfortunately due to budgetary pressures, the Minister announced recently that the new EFS will not open for applications in 2015.

Water Framework Directive: The committee are represented on the Water Framework Stakeholders Forum and members attend the various Catchment Stakeholder Groups around the Province. The UFU are reviewing progress on the implementation of this Directive in Northern Ireland to ensure the views of local farmers are taken into account.

Climate Change: The UFU continues to be represented on the DARD Greenhouse Gas Implementation Partnership and its sub-groups which has developed and is implementing the ‘Efficient Farming Cuts Greenhouse Gases’ strategy.