Environment Committee Update

Friday, 12 April, 2019


Commodity Watch - By Aileen Lawson, Senior Policy Officer

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.  Cookstown beef farmer Wilbert Mayne, is the current Chairman of the Committee with Thomas Douglas, a poultry farmer from Dungannon serving as Vice Chairman.  Some of the main issues being discussed at UFU

Environmental Committee meetings currently are:

Nitrates Action Programme:  The Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and derogation has recently been review by the EC and DAERA and the EC have granted NI a derogation.  The UFU Environment Committee led the debate within the Union on the DAERA proposals and submitted a detailed response which can be found in the resources section of the UFU website.  14 changes were made to the original DAERA proposals following UFU lobbying.  The Union will now work to ensure a practical interpretation of the legislation is made when the Guidance Booklet is revised.  The Union continue to assist UFU members with the record keeping element and in preparing for inspections.   

Ammonia:  The Committee are regularly briefed on ammonia emissions, and have considered the policy implications for the agricultural sector, and recognised that this is a significant challenge going forward.  The Committee are extremely concerned about the current NIEA stance on ammonia when dealing with planning and the potential for significant constraints on the development of some farm businesses.  Recognising the issue, the UFU believe that ammonia needs to be tackled with an appropriate strategy with the industry working in partnership with Government and other Stakeholders to deal with this. A number of high-level meetings have taken place and the UFU participated in a number of DAERA Stakeholder meetings.  The Union have taken a strong line urging DAERA to take a practical approach to dealing with this issue.  The UFU brought together industry partners on a number of occasions and are working together to lobby DAERA.  The committee have discussed mitigation measures and a UFU delegation travelled to the Netherlands to learn about the policies in place there to tackle ammonia, mitigation measures and how these were impacting on farmers.

EAA Soils Scheme:  The committee supported the roll out of the Exceptional Area Aid soils package and subsequent catchment schemes in the Upper Bann, Colebrook and Strule catchments. UFU would encourage farmers to take up the training offered on soil sampling in conjunction with this scheme and to ensure they follow the recommendations.  The UFU would like to see the catchment schemes rolled out across NI over the next few years.

Agri-Environment Schemes: UFU representatives have met with DAERA and other Stakeholders on a number of occasions to discuss the Environmental Farming Scheme.  The Committee have highlighted concerns on the funding cap on the wider scheme, requirement to do all capital works in year one, higher scheme stocking rates etc.  The UFU have recently highlighted concerns about the availability of fence posts to DAERA and are monitoring the situation.

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

Brexit:  The committee are updated regularly on Brexit and the various UFU meetings on this issue.

Environmental Principles and Governance:  The UFU responded to the DEFRA consultation on this issue and supported the introduction of a UK Wide body to replace the EC once the UK leaves the EU.  The Union will be ensuring the views of local farmers are represented in the forthcoming debate on a new environment strategy for Northern Ireland

Farmland Bird Count:  The UFU promoted the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Big Farmland Bird Count for the first time this year.  Farmers from across NI took part and submitted results to the GWCT.

The remainder of 2019 looks set to be as busy as it started with most of the above issues ongoing.  Ammonia is likely to dominate the Committee agenda in the months ahead as will discussions on future agriculture and environmental policy following the UK’s exit from the EU.