Four-point plan unveiled to back NI nature-friendly farmers

Farmers in Northern Ireland are not being rewarded to balance nature recovery with food production to the same degree as their counterparts elsewhere in the British Isles, the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) says.

NFFN NI is concerned about the gap opening up between support levels for nature-friendly farming in Northern Ireland compared to England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, where schemes are either in place or in the final stages of development.

The organisation, which has more than 400 members in NI, says that a priority for a reformed NI Assembly must be the rollout of “ambitious” nature-friendly schemes.

See also: Timeline revealed for farm policy shift in Northern Ireland

To this end, NFFN NI has developed a four-point plan for the assembly at Stormont to get working on as soon as it returns, to ensure agricultural and environmental standards in the country are not slipping.

NFFN NI has spoken out after Defra announced a comprehensive raft of 50 new options in its recent Agricultural Transition Plan which offer farmers in England money for ambitious environmental actions.

That takes the total of options available to English farmers to more than 300.

In Wales, a final consultation is under way on a sustainable land management scheme, called the Sustainable Farming Scheme, and the Republic of Ireland is already implementing a range of innovative environmentally focused schemes.

By contrast, Northern Irish farmers wanting to work in harmony with nature face few options in the face of a political vacuum which has left civil servants trying to work on policy – significant parts of which require ministerial sign-off.

NI farmers ‘green with envy’

In some cases, schemes that previously supported farm-scale environmental action have been scrapped without a suitable replacement being in place.

NFFN NI steering group chairman Stephen Alexander, who farms pedigree cattle in County Down, said: “The agricultural policies and environmental land management scheme being released in England are the envy of our NFFN members here in NI.

“We require a functioning Assembly that will take these issues on board and prioritise the implementation of accessible, long-term, sustainable agricultural policy.”

The four NFFN ‘demands’ from NI nature-friendly farmers

  1. Comprehensive details of the Farming For Nature package to be published as soon as possible
  2.  A commitment to funding schemes at a level which will deliver the commitments to nature and the climate written into law in the Climate Act of 2020
  3. Publish an ambitious Environmental Strategy that recognises the role of nature-friendly farming in delivering its objectives
  4. A commitment to bring forward a NI Agriculture Act before the end of this Assembly mandate.

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