The measures that are being rolled out to help NI farms reduce carbon emissions are better than the alternative option of cutting livestock numbers, UFU president David Brown has said.

Speaking to members last week, Brown acknowledged there are frustrations among farmers with various new schemes that are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from NI agriculture.

This includes the need to carry out carbon benchmarking to be eligible for the new Farm Sustainability Payments, as well as criteria around slaughter age, calving interval and first calving age for the new beef and suckler headage schemes.

“This is to drive us towards more efficient production to avoid reductions in livestock numbers,” Brown said at a UFU roadshow meeting in Limavady. The Fermanagh farmer pointed out that the UK government’s Climate Change Committee has recommended that to meet NI climate change targets, dairy cattle numbers should fall by 22%, beef cattle by 17%, and sheep numbers should drop 18% by 2030.


DAERA has taken a different view so far and, as part of its first carbon budget from 2023 to 2027, the focus is on cutting agricultural emissions by improving efficiencies on farms.

“Environmental groups and others are not happy that we are not cutting our livestock numbers. They see it as the easiest and simplest way [to hit emissions targets],” Brown said.

“These new measures will not make our lives any simpler, but in the back of our minds we need to remember that we don’t want to see livestock cuts,” he added.

Closed period slurry spreading warning

Spreading slurry before the start of February should only be done as an absolute last resort, local farmers have been warned.

“If your tank is coming up to the slats, take a photograph of your tank being full, but do not empty it,” UFU president David Brown said during last week’s meeting in Limavady.

‘Excuse’ clause

Brown said the “reasonable excuse” clause in the nutrients action programme can allow farmers to spread a small amount of slurry on low-risk land during the closed period if no other options are available.

However, he warned that this significantly increases the chances of a farm inspection by the NI Environment Agency.

A key issue that can arise during an inspection is the need for 22 weeks’ of slurry storage, which is more than six weeks longer than the closed period from 15 October to 1 February.

“If stock numbers have increased on your farm and you no longer have 22 weeks’ of storage, this (the reasonable excuse clause) will not defend you,” Brown said.

Red Tractor needs a ‘knock back’ from reviews

Ongoing reviews into the Red Tractor quality assurance schemes should lead to a positive outcome for farmers, UFU deputy president William Irvine has said.

“My hope is that Red Tractor will get a knock back and it will bring the scheme back to what it initially started as,” Irvine said.

The reviews follow a recent backlash from farmers when Red Tractor tried to introduce a new environment module without consulting farmer representatives.

Irvine said Red Tractor was still important for local produce to get access to the UK retail market, although he suggested it has strayed from its original priorities of food safety, traceability and animal welfare.

“It is not that we don’t need a quality assurance scheme, we just don’t need it to the extent that Red Tractor has grown to,” he said.

“There has never been such a united front across all UK farmer unions. There has to be a reset here. We will be fighting strongly for that,” Irvine added.