NI Assembly support on-farm investment, says UFU

County Fermanagh countryside. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says that the motion to promote on farm investment for new and replacement buildings, that was passed in a vote at the Assembly on Monday (17 June), is positive for the industry. The UFU welcomes this support which is critical to creating a balanced way forward helping the agriculture industry to develop and deliver further ammonia reductions on farm, and ensuring farm families can maintain a viable business as food producers.

UFU president William Irvine said, “The majority of MLAs recognised the importance of modern on-farm developments which is fundamental to create more efficient farm businesses in Northern Ireland. Without investment in farm infrastructure whether this be new or replacement buildings, farmers could struggle to introduce mitigation measures, critical improvements that are needed to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture delaying progression towards targets. They are also vital to further improve animal health and welfare, supporting the production of high-quality food for a growing population demanded by our consumers.

“Many of the MLAs highlighted frustrations around the planning system including significant delays, high level of costs and uncertainty, points which the UFU would agree with. The comments made by some during the debate that mitigation measures are affordable is ill-informed, especially for smaller family farms who are now forced into the complex planning regime despite only carrying out very small developments. Many farmers are unable to include mitigation measures in planning applications for these reasons but also because NIEA do not give guidance and some measures are not accepted by planning authorities which is not helpful. There is a lack of willingness by NIEA to discuss applications with farmers which leaves them having to guess the best approach.

“Investment is critical for the longevity and sustainable development of any business or industry and farming is no different. With a growing population and the need to tackle various environmental challenges, blocking on-farm developments would stifle the industry having an impact on the economy, local communities and consumers, as well as delaying progress in reducing emissions having severe consequences for the future of NI farming. It’s disappointing that all the parties did not recognise this. Alliance voted against the motion as did SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole.

“During the Assembly the DAERA Minister stated that he believes there is no legal basis for treating replacement buildings differently, which the UFU would dispute. The previous Minister was willing to try and find a way to allow replacement buildings which reduced emissions on farms, and we know other regions are also trying to find a way through this. It’s disappointing that there does not appear to be the same mindset in NI, it now feels as if NIEA is pushing the industry backwards.

“The Minister also indicated that the timeline for a strategy and final operational protocol will be later this year. This issue has been ongoing for years and now it sounds like we have further delays. It is unacceptable. Farmers need clarity and this stop start approach has been going on for far too long.”