New NI Agriculture Minister, Andrew Muir, has had to cut ties with environmental group Friends of the Earth, the Irish Farmers Journal can reveal.

Before being appointed to DAERA last Saturday, Muir was a member of the green lobby organisation, which has consistently called for tougher environmental regulations in farming.

On enquiry, a DAERA spokesperson confirmed that the Alliance MLA “will declare any conflicts of interest in line with the terms of the ministerial code”.

“Minister Muir has ended his membership of and any donations to Friends of the Earth after taking up role as Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs,” the spokesperson said.

In his first public statement after taking up the post, Minister Muir said his goals include “safeguarding our environment, addressing climate change and ensuring our economy can grow sustainably”.

Despite the statement having a strong environmental focus, the North Down MLA did acknowledge that farming “is of paramount importance” for food security and the NI economy.

The issue of bovine TB received only a brief mention, with the minister describing it as one of the “many other challenges that I know I will need to address”.

Alliance policies

Since taking on the DAERA portfolio, the spotlight has come on the Alliance Party’s previous policy positions related to farming.

One of the party’s most recent publications was in November 2023, in response to the algal blooms in Lough Neagh.

Its proposals include to “establish an independent environmental protection agency”, “increase fines and penalties for polluters” and “support nature friendly farming”.

“Action is required in a range of areas to reduce nutrient content of run-off, from reducing nutrient in feed, extending the grazing period for cattle and the reduction in application of chemical fertiliser,” the document reads.

Carbon audits

Similar policies are set out in Alliance’s 2022 Assembly election manifesto, with a key proposal being that all NI farms are carbon audited.

DAERA and industry bodies have already pushed on with developing a carbon audit process for farms and participation in this will be a requirement for claiming the new Farm Sustainability Payment.

However, Alliance suggest taking this further where “financial support will also be dependent on emissions reduction and increased carbon sequestration”.

The party manifesto also states that bovine TB should be tackled by “better utilising the test, vaccinate and remove” for wildlife intervention and it describes non-selective badger culling as “ineffective and cruel”.