Despite nearly two years in the planning and months of intense meetings, serious doubts have emerged as to whether a new industry-led NI Sustainability body will get off the ground.

Proposed as a new umbrella organisation to co-ordinate activity around carbon benchmarking and the wider environmental performance of local farms, the new entity had been strongly endorsed in a strategic review presented to Stormont ministers in 2021.

Undertaken by a group led by former NFU president Sir Peter Kendall, it recommended that the new entity absorbs various organisations, including the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), AgriSearch, Animal Health and Welfare NI, and a new Ruminant Genetics company.

Planning for the new Sustainability body initially involved senior representatives from both dairy and beef and lamb processing, working alongside the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Others from the pig and poultry sector and the grain trade also got involved, with a shadow board formed, chaired by UFU deputy president John McLenaghan.

A separate sub-group was tasked with taking forward the roll-out of carbon audits on farms, with the plan to bolt on these audits as part of farm quality assurance inspections undertaken by NI Food Chain Certification.

Role and function

The Irish Farmers Journal understands there is general consensus on the need for widespread roll-out of carbon audits on farms, but not all parties are agreed on the role and function of a new Sustainability Body.

Various issues came to a head within the last week, with dairy industry chiefs indicating they no longer want to be involved in the shadow board and will instead concentrate on developing their own initiatives with farmer suppliers.

One source described it as wanting to be “half in and half out”.

Farmer representation

There was also understood to be wranglings over farmer representation, with the UFU arguing that a new board should be evenly split between farmers and industry bosses, as it is primary producers who will be expected to deliver against environmental targets.

Given the time, effort and substantial monies already invested in setting up a new Sustainability body, there is considerable frustration among a number of representatives from other sectors regarding the decision by dairy chiefs to step back from the process.

However, there is also an acknowledgment that the whole initiative has got bogged down, with hours spent debating issues such as the name for the new body and the final make-up of a functioning board.

Another source said he hoped common ground could yet be found.

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