The farming and food industry should not sit back and let other interests set the direction for NI agriculture, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president David Brown has said.

Strongly endorsing the principle of a new Sustainability Body in NI, Brown told members at the UFU president’s roadshow in Armagh that the new entity must come forward with solutions that can be put on the desks of policymakers.

“We have a good story to tell, but we need to be in a place where we have the data and the evidence to back that up,” he said.

Ultimately that means local farmers getting on board with carbon audits, making best use of nutrient inputs (with data underpinned by the soil nutrient health scheme) and embracing advances in science and technology.

Work has been ongoing in recent months to put the structures of a new sustainability body in place, with the UFU leadership initially working alongside senior representatives from the local red meat and dairy sectors.

Others to include pork, poultry and the grain trade have also been brought on board, said Brown.


The principle of a NI Sustainability Body was endorsed by the Independent Strategic Review of NI agri food, led by former NFU president Sir Peter Kendall, which reported in January 2022.

This review envisaged that the new body would act as an umbrella organisation under which would sit the likes of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI), AgriSearch and a new ruminant genetics company.

Two strands

It is understood that those working on setting up the new Sustainability Body have been focusing on two separate strands. The first relates to carbon audits of farms, with Brown confirming that a carbon steering group met for the first time in December.

The current plan is that carbon audits will be bolted on as part of farm quality assurance inspections undertaken by NI Food Chain Certification.

The second strand of work is to get a board in place for the new Sustainability Body, and then appoint an independent chair.

If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable – that is the first pillar of sustainability. But we want the environment to be good for our children and our grandchildren as well

It is hoped that this work might be completed by the spring, with the board made up of high-level representatives from across the NI agri-food industry.

In his report, Kendall set out four main functions of the sustainability body to include collection and analysis of data, and the establishment of industry targets around environmental performance.

It will work closely with government and research organisations.


At the UFU meeting in Armagh, it was put to Brown that there is a danger of too much focus on the environment, to the detriment of food production, and ultimately farmer livelihoods.

“If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable – that is the first pillar of sustainability. But we want the environment to be good for our children and our grandchildren as well,” he responded.

Also commenting, UFU deputy president William Irvine said the industry faces many challenges, but also many opportunities, especially if we can get the right policies and structures in place.

“It was said at the Oxford Farming Conference that if you don’t have proven verifiable figures the environmentalists will come up with figures that are worse,” he added.

Progress made on sheep payment

A first draft of a proposal for a sheep payment in NI has been completed, and the UFU should be in a position to discuss the detail among its committee structure within the next “two to three weeks”, deputy president John McLenaghan told members in Armagh.

The work is being taken forward by the UFU and other farm and industry organisations in NI, working alongside former chief economist of Quality Meat Scotland, Stuart Ashworth.

The aim of the payment is to incentivise improved efficiency on farms via the likes of better flock health and genetics, and also to recognise the environmental benefit from grazing sheep in certain upland habitats.

A Sheep Welfare Scheme has operated in the Republic of Ireland since 2016, and is to be replaced in 2023 with a new Sheep Improvement Scheme with a payment rate of €12 per eligible ewe.


McLenaghan said he would like to see similar rates of funding on offer in NI.

However, he added that, following discussions with DAERA, it is unlikely to be a payment per head, given concerns from officials that historic payments per ewe created inefficiency on farms.

“The challenge is how we can have a headage payment that is not a headage payment. I imagine it will be an area payment,” he said.

UFU unclear on other funding sources

Other sources of farm support outside of the £300m budget for direct payments, is potentially available to help farmers meet commitments around future climate change targets, but the extent of any new funding is unclear, said UFU president David Brown.

In particular, two funding streams have been talked up. The first is the Stormont Executive’s Green Growth Strategy being led by DAERA, with indicative estimates previously suggesting £600m would be required over the next five years to deliver the plan, to include peatland restoration in NI.

The second potential source of money is from a “Just Transition Fund for Agriculture” included in the Climate Change Act passed by the NI Assembly in 2022.

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