A subtle difference between the names of two agri-environment schemes proposed for NI farmers has raised questions about DAERA’s vision for the future of agriculture.

As part of its plans for new agricultural policy, DAERA has proposed a “Farming for Nature” package which will involve various environmental schemes aimed at different types of farmers.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has come forward with its own proposals for a “Farming with Nature” programme that aims to improve farm incomes and environmental sustainability.

“The department has ‘Farming for Nature’ but ours is ‘Farming with Nature’. Think about those two names. One recognises that we are food producers who need to look after nature too, the other doesn’t seem to recognise that,” said UFU president Victor Chestnutt.

I do think that, in this instance, government listened

Speaking at a meeting in Limavady, Chestnutt said the UFU’s proposals have been with DAERA for several months and many of its suggestions have been included in the department’s plans. “I do think that, in this instance, government listened,” he said.

However, aside from the names, there are some other subtle differences between the two proposed schemes.

For example, the UFU wants the agri-environment package to be only available for “active farmers” whereas DAERA proposes that “other land managers” will also be eligible.

The UFU is keen that the new schemes are based on paying farmers for environmental results, rather than issuing payments for carrying out measures regardless of their outcome.

However, the union wants these environmental results to be mainly assessed by farmers themselves, with some extra checks carried out by DAERA to monitor compliance.

“This scheme should not become a profit centre for consultants and environmental NGOs (non-government organisations),” reads the UFU’s proposals.