A long-awaited Sustainability Body will soon be fully operational in NI, with a new functioning board to be appointed in the coming weeks.

Speaking at an Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) meeting in Co Down on Monday, UFU Deputy President John McLenaghan confirmed that a shadow board made up of 17 members has now been stood down.

The final board is to start with six members, of which three will be senior executives from local food companies and three will be farmers appointed by the UFU Executive. There are also plans to bring in someone from academia and a person with an environmental background. The new body will be called Sustainable Food NI.

As well as the two main farming organisations (UFU and the NI Agricultural Producers’ Association), the other owners of the new entity are the Dairy Council for NI; the NI Meat Exporters’ Association; the NI Food and Drink Association and the NI Grain Trade Association. DAERA is not directly involved.

“There have been plenty of bumps on the road, but everyone has recognised the need to work together,” McLenaghan told UFU members on Monday.

He said that under the board a number of sub-committees will operate, covering specific issues. The first of those sub-committees has already been working on the roll-out of carbon audits on farms.

The new Sustainability Body was initially 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 Sustainable Ruminant Genetics, the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) and AgriSearch.

The objectives for Sustainable Food NI include:

  • Growing the local agri-food sector.
  • Ensuring both farmers and processors are profitable.
  • Monitoring and driving positive change around environmental issues.
  • “The good news is that we are already sustainable. It’s just about dressing it up a bit or doing it slightly differently,” suggested McLenaghan.

    Conditionality replacing cross-compliance

    NI farmers have become accustomed to meeting rules around cross compliance to be able to receive direct payments, but new terminology in the form of “conditionality” will become prevalent in the future, suggested UFU President David Brown.

    The principle relates to the likes of a new Farm Sustainability Payment (FSP) due to replace the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and to be fully rolled out in 2026.

    The receipt of the FSP will be “conditional” on a number of actions such as participating in the soil nutrient health scheme and also taking part in carbon benchmarking.

    At the meeting on Monday a number of farmers expressed concern at the prospect of DAERA being in receipt of detailed information around farm inputs as well as what the department already knows around livestock numbers and the land farmed.

    “Enough is enough – we are handing over all the information on our businesses,” commented one farmer.

    Responding, David Brown pointed out that it is legislative pressure from government that is forcing both farmers and also processors and retailers to look at current greenhouse gas emissions within their businesses.

    He acknowledged that the “whole focus at present seems to be on agriculture” and suggested that the general public could be “in for a shock” whenever all government departments roll out plans to cut emissions.

    DAERA working on flooding cases

    A business case to help compensate potato growers impacted by floods last November is nearing completion and will soon be with DAERA economists for a final assessment, confirmed UFU President David Brown.

    £15m fund

    Any potential compensation for flood damaged crops will have to come from the £15m fund allocated by NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris for all businesses, not just farmers.

    With no Ministers at Stormont, ultimately the decision on whether to grant funding will fall to senior civil servants.


    “There will be a whole lot of constraints on it and not by any means is it over the line,” acknowledged David Brown.

    KPMG report on the cost of ammonia

    The UFU has commissioned experts at business consultancy firm KPMG to undertake an economic assessment of the proposals contained within a draft ammonia strategy put out for consultation by DAERA in early 2023.

    That strategy includes proposals to ban the spreading of slurry by splash plates from 2026 as well as covering lagoons and slurry stores and installation of various new technologies in livestock sheds.

    In recent weeks, planning for most livestock sheds has also been effectively put on hold due to a legal threat issued by the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) relating to ammonia advice to planners given by the NI Environment Agency (NIEA).

    “We are considering our next steps, but it is a serious situation that will have serious implications for NI livestock farmers,” confirmed UFU Deputy President William Irvine.

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