Farmer focused upland programme offers benefits to NI, says UFU

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

The Ulster Farmers’ Union hill farming policy committee says DAERA should investigate an upland scheme that has hill farmers at its core, similar to the Burren Programme (BP) in the Republic of Ireland.

Following the meeting with Burren Life programme manager, Dr Michael Dunford and a few local Burren farmers last week, UFU hill farming chairman, Nigel McLaughlin said, “The Burren Programme works closely with local farmers to agree on a plan that will help optimise and adapt their farming systems. The ultimate aim is to ensure the next generation farmers can continue to produce high quality food from an outstanding environment which is valued and appreciated by all. Farmers determine their own stocking rates, decide how to manage their pasture and with the help of specialist advisors, address environmental issues and are rewarded annually for their results. It is an excellent example of farmers, government and environmental groups working in partnership on a programme that delivers for all parties. After visiting the Burren, we believe a similar programme rolled out here in NI would be very effective and are strongly encouraging DAERA to consider this model going forward. Not only will it benefit hill areas, but it will have a knock-on effect on the local economy, boosting tourism and helping to regenerate a disadvantaged rural area.”

There is over 330 farmers in the BP covering 63,000 acres. The success of the project is due to the unique relationship between stakeholders and farmers.

“The key aspect of the programme is that it draws from the knowledge of local farmers who have multi-generational experience and can advise on how best to optimise output balance from productive grazing practice. While also sustaining environmental targets, scrub clearance, wildflower and species proliferation, butterflies and insects.

“The BP team value and appreciate the knowledge of farmers who know the land they farm, and the surrounding local area inside and out. They have created a level of trust with farmers that does not happen overnight. Having this kind of relationship is a great way to bring local people together and will provide a clear understanding about what local farmers deliver for their community,” said Mr McLaughlin.

The UFU recognises that it will take time to build a replica of the BP for Northern Ireland.

“Stakeholders and farmers in Burren are 20 years ahead of us when it comes to their environmental approach but what they have achieved is not out of our reach. A key step will be recognising the value of farmers local knowledge and know-how while working with agri-science to shape effective government programmes,” said the UFU hill farming chairman.