Tyrone countryside. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
A group of agri-food organisations have submitted their response to DAERA’s air pollution consultation to ensure that a balance is struck between tackling ammonia emissions and supporting a sustainable agricultural sector in Northern Ireland (NI). Taking the lead on this latest collaboration, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) sought advice from a team of experts in each of the specific areas that are outlined within the Future Operational Protocol. The protocol is needed to assess the impacts of air pollutants on the natural environment, including ammonia within the planning and permitting process. The work is supported by the UFU, Dairy Council NI, NIMEA, NIGTA, LMC, NI Poultry Federation and NI Pork and Bacon Forum.
Speaking on behalf of the group, UFU president David Brown said, “We have put a great amount of effort, time and resources into the agri industry’s response to DAERA’s call for evidence on the revised protocol to assess the impact of air pollution on NI’s environment. The DAERA document outlined potential options for revising NIEA’s planning protocol which provides advice around ammonia to planning authorities including councils, on farm planning applications or IPPC Permits. More often than not, this advice determines whether the application is passed or refused. We had grave concerns that these options could result in blocking the majority of on-farm developments and therefore engaged a team of experts to put forward evidence to challenge some of DAERA’s thinking.
“To create a sustainable agriculture industry, NI farmers must be allowed to develop and modernise by embracing new buildings and technologies. These advances are key to reducing emissions and improving animal health and welfare, while producing food for a growing population. If the ammonia planning protocol does not support farmers to do this, NI agriculture will get left behind and it will be impossible for our family farms to remain competitive. This would also impact agri-businesses, the rural economy, communities and consumers which DAERA has not taken into account.
“In addition to the response submitted to DAERA, the industry group have also commissioned an independent economics assessment and are awaiting this report. DAERA needs to recognise that the implications of this policy will stretch beyond agriculture.”
A balanced pathway that allows farmers to develop and deliver ammonia reductions needs to be created, providing clarity for farmers that is long overdue.
“Our farmers have spent thousands on planning applications, backed up by essential evidence, to develop the sustainability of their farm. They have done what is required and yet some are no further forward. Many of these applications have been lingering in the system for years. This call for evidence should eventually provide much-needed clarity going forward but it must recognise that a balance is needed to allow for sustainable development on farms and due to the significant nature of this policy and its cross-cutting impact, it’s clear that the decision needs to be made by the NI Executive,” said Mr Brown.