PROPOSALS for a new agri-environment scheme have been launched by the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
The development of proposals for the ‘Farming with Nature’ scheme was driven by the desire of farmers to do more environmental works on-farm, delivering huge gains for nature as well as their business.
The proposals have been presented to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots on the home farm of UFU environment committee chairman Bill Harpur, to be fed into the Department of Agriculture as it brings forward plans for future agricultural support.
The UFU believes the new scheme could replace the Environmental Farming Scheme and focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving water quality and biodiversity.
UFU president Victor Chestnutt said: “After a mass amount of work being put into developing our ideas for a ‘Farming With Nature’ scheme which we believe could replace the Environmental Farming Scheme in the post-Brexit policy period, we’re pleased to finally get it in the public domain.
“It was developed by our UFU environment committee with input from our policy committees and executive committee. Throughout the process it remained obvious that our members, who are custodians of the countryside, wanted a scheme that would complement nature and food production, allowing both to coincide and thrive here in Northern Ireland.
“Farmers have the ability to tackle a number of environmental challenges with the right support. Farming With Nature has been developed to deliver for both the farmer and the environment. It focuses on a results based/outcome approach with options available for all sectors in every part of NI.
“The scheme aims to deliver improvements on water quality, reduction in greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions, improve carbon sequestration and improve biodiversity.”
Mr Harpur added: “We wanted to take a proactive approach in designing a future environment scheme rather than waiting for a DAERA consultation on this issue. Farmers are eager to do as much environmental work on their farm as they can, and sooner rather than later, but it’s vital that they’re able to do this in a way that works for them and their business.
“Past environmental schemes have been too rigid and authoritative, causing difficulties for our farmers who want to help nature to flourish alongside their family farm. Farming With Nature has the ability to deliver for all farmers across NI because it is designed for farmers by farmers. There is a level of understanding within the scheme that was missing before. We took the issues of former environmental schemes on board, building one that we think is flexible and encouraging with choices to suit all commodities and areas.”
The UFU has been making its views on environmental schemes known to DAERA and it is positive to see that it has been reflected in the consultation on the Future Agricultural Policy Proposals for NI.
Mr Chestnutt continued: “The environment needs to become a profit centre for farms going forward. Farmers are 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. Nature and food production need to support each other. Therefore, it’s vital that our members are equipped with the right tools to become more efficient resulting in maximum returns and farmers must be involved in co-designing a future scheme to ensure it works for everyone.
“I now urge the Agriculture Minister and DAERA officials to work together with farmers to deliver this ‘Farming With Nature’ scheme that we believe delivers for everyone.”
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots also commented: “I very much welcome the work that the UFU has undertaken to bring forward their proposals for a Farming With Nature scheme. This approach aims to encourage the environment to be seen as another on-farm enterprise with the potential to become a profit centre within an overall sustainable farming model and to assist farmers and land managers to make an economic return on the environmental assets that they manage appropriately.
“Moving forward we must join up our environmental ambitions with farm economic activity and my proposals and, indeed the scheme proposed by the UFU, are a step in that direction.
“The current consultation on Future Agricultural Policy Proposals for NI includes my proposals for a Farming for Nature Package.
“This package will form a central plank within the overall portfolio of measures. I welcome the UFU’s engagement to date and look forward to further engagement as we develop future policies.”
n The Farming With Nature proposal and example measures can be found at www.ufuni.org/resources
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