DAERA’s long-awaited consultation on Northern Ireland’s Future Agricultural Policy Proposals has finally been launched, giving farmers and the wider industry a say on what shape farming policy will take.
Originally expected in the autumn, the consultation was launched on Tuesday and will remain open until February 15, with the findings published in the early part of 2022.
The proposals mark the biggest overhaul of the Province’s agriculture in 50 years and aim to create a policy that is tailored to the sector’s specific needs that will evolve over time.
The new policy is not expected to come into play until 2024 at the earliest and will have an annual budget of around £330 million, although some measures may come on-stream earlier than this date.
The proposals being consulted on are based on four key outcomes – productivity, environmental sustainability, improved resilience and an effectively functioning supply chain, as outlined by Farm Minister Edwin Poots when he unveiled the policy framework in August.
The four outcomes comprise eight main workstreams which rather than being viewed as “stand alone” policy instruments, are tools to drive behavioural change among farmers.
Included in these are a “Resilience Measure” intended as a relatively easy to administer area based income payment to provide a basic safety net, but set at a level which does not blunt innovation or productivity, and will initially have the majority of the budget allocated to it.
A “Headage Sustainability” package is also proposed to ensure the viability of the beef sector by seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint by calving cows more regularly, calving heifers at a younger age and by slaughtering animals at an earlier age. Around £50m/annum would be made available for this package.
A central plank of the policy will be a “Farming for Nature” package which will include bespoke support schemes with the aim being to increase levels of funding over time from the Resilience Payment to this package as momentum builds.
A “Generational Renewal” measure is also proposed to facilitate the acceleration of the transition of
farming businesses to those with better training and skills, who are more open to innovation and change and who have a longer investment horizon.
The opening of the consultation has been welcomed by the Ulster Farmers’ Union, heralding it as a “major milestone” for the industry.
President Victor Chestnutt said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to redefine agriculture policies and support, to ensure the sustainability of our unique family farm structure as we move forward, delivering for the environment, local communities and consumers.
“It’s extremely positive that the focus of the new future ag policy is on active farmers and growers.
“Working to meet the growing demand for food both at home and abroad whilst also protecting the environment and meeting the demands of climate change, it’s vital that our members are equipped with the right tools to become more efficient resulting in maximum returns.
“With the consultation being open to responses until 15 February 2022, DAERA will be engaging with stakeholders and the UFU will be considering this consultation within our extensive policy committee structure.
“We encourage all our members to take time over the Christmas period to read and respond, making their opinions known.
“The future ag policy consultation will be a key discussion point at our Presidents’ roadshows in January. It’s vital that farmers are at the core of this conversation as we look forward to working with the department to support the development of a productive, profitable and progressive farming industry for the future.”
Speaking about the consultation, Mr Poots said: “This is the first time in almost 50 years that we have a unique opportunity to redefine our agricultural policy and target support to meet our local priorities and needs much more effectively.
“Achieving this vision will take a collaborative effort with industry and stakeholders in the co-development and design of new measures and interventions, using evidence to inform policy decisions, encouraging uptake of innovation, science and technology, encouraging knowledge and education exchange and ensuring these policies are supported by an appropriate level of regulation.
“My ultimate aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland takes full advantage of the opportunity to develop a sustainable agricultural industry in which all farmers are supported on an equitable basis to make best use of the assets at their disposal, and to invest in all forms of capital.”
The Minister continued: “As we build out this future portfolio, I want to ensure that farmers are supported and equipped with the right tools to continue producing high quality, nutritious food whilst importantly, also reducing their environmental impact.
“Going forward I want to devise support schemes that provide opportunities for all of Northern Ireland’s farmers.
“Schemes and support are needed to help farmers develop their businesses, no matter where they farm, to become more efficient and to maximise the sustainable returns they can achieve from the assets at their disposal.
“With appropriately designed policy interventions and innovation, all of this can be achieved without compromising the economic viability of the sector.
“If we get it right, the benefits to our rural economy can be substantial.
“I would encourage all stakeholders with an interest in food production and land use to respond so that together we can take full advantage of this unique opportunity to develop a future sustainable agricultural industry.
“I look forward to engaging with all those in the farming industry as we move forward with my vision for the future.”
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