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. Wilbert Mayne, a beef farmer from Cookstown currently chairs the committee with Dungannon poultry farmer Thomas Douglas, serving as Vice Chairman.
Some of the main issues currently being dealt with at UFU Environmental Committee meetings are:
Ammonia Emissions: This is an emerging issue for the agricultural sector in NI with huge implications for local farms.
While controls have been in place for the larger pig and poultry sectors and many of the intensive farmers going through planning have been made aware of the issue, cattle farmers throughout NI are largely oblivious to this issue despite being responsible for around three quarters of the ammonia emissions in NI. While the UFU recognises that ammonia emissions need addressed, there is a huge degree of frustration about the current DAERA and NIEA approach. This will continue to be a major focus for the committee in the months ahead.
UFU/NIEA MOU: The UFU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NIEA back in April and are now working on an implementation plan on the various actions within the MOU. Some of the measures have already been put in place. The UFU will continue to progress this work which aims to deliver improved environmental outcomes in ways that reduce conflict and support improved farm sustainability.
EAA Soils Package: The UFU had encouraged farmers to register for this scheme which closed in June.
There was a huge level of interest in the scheme from farmers across NI with the scheme vastly oversubscribed and the UFU have stated that DAERA should open a similar scheme again in the future.
Environmental Farming Scheme: The committee continue to monitor the Environmental Farming Scheme. Around 85% of farmers have accepted the wider scheme agreements which commenced on 1 July 2017 and will run for 5½ years.
Those who applied to the higher level scheme are required to submit plans to DAERA by 26 September 2017. The first Higher Level agreements will start in January 2018. The Union has raised a number of issues with the first tranche of EFS including communication about it, the cap on the wider scheme, timing of application and will continue to monitor and feedback views to DAERA.
Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and Nitrates Derogation: Under the EU Nitrates Directive, the NI NAP and derogation must be reviewed every four years. The next review will begin in the coming months and there will be a significant amount of work associated with this. A new NI NAP is due to come into place in 2019.
The committee continue to lobby DAERA 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.
Brexit: The Committee continues to be updated on the UFU work on Brexit. Environmental standards will continue to be an important aspect post-brexit.
There are a vast array of other issues that the Committee will be working on throughout the year to ensure the needs of our members are recognised.