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NFFN NI Consultation Response: Future Agricultural Policy Framework

What is the consultation?

On the 21st of December, the Department for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs opened their consultation on a Future Agricultural Policy Framework for Northern Ireland. The proposals put forward to outline the future of agriculture policy in Northern Ireland, based around core key principles of increased resilience, productivity, environmental sustainability and an effective functioning supply chain. The consultation outlines a range of proposals including the introduction of a farm resilience scheme, a Farming for Nature package, specific schemes aimed at the beef sector and proposals for minimum sustainability standards to replace cross-compliance. 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Agricultural policy can play an important role in tackling the nature and climate crises, it can support rural economies and communities, produce healthy, sustainable foods and improve public health. We also know that inappropriate and poorly conceived policies can have negative environmental, social and economic effects. Northern Ireland’s Future Agricultural Policy Framework will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of farming for decades to come, it is vital we get it right, for farming, people, nature and climate. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations? 

The NFFN supports the high-level principles of the policy to deliver a productive, resilient and environmentally sustainable food and farming system in Northern Ireland. We also welcome proposals to move the majority of agriculture funding towards the Farming for Nature package over time. This is an important step, which should enable all farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices while reversing biodiversity decline and increasing carbon storage from our land. However, on the whole, it does not go far enough in putting farmers on the pathway to regenerative nature-friendly farming and land use. It fails to grasp the urgent need for transformational change, nor provides the clarity and certainty that farmers need to prepare for the future.

The evidence is clear: the next 10 years will be pivotal in securing a brighter, better future for farming and land use and we must begin this journey immediately. Without a clear timeline for action, this policy risks kicking the opportunity of a lifetime into the long grass. Furthermore, it lacks consistency and risks a twin-track approach, incentivising ambitious action for nature for some, while encouraging flawed approaches for others.

We are particularly concerned about the return of headage payments for livestock, which we believe is a deeply flawed approach in trying to increase farm profitability. Incremental changes to the status quo are not enough, while production-based schemes risk taking us back to the past.  We need clarity, vision and a clear purpose for the future, which ensures that nature-friendly farming is scaled up across the whole of Northern Ireland. We urge DAERA to take our comments on board and deliver a policy that reflects the scale of the challenge we are currently facing

What’s next?

Fundamental reform of agricultural policy is essential if we are to effectively address the nature and climate crises, as well as ensuring food security and profitable farm businesses. What’s been put forward so far will not bring about the changes we so desperately need. We will continue to demonstrate the benefits that a transition to nature-friendly farming can achieve and fight for a policy that makes nature friendly farming the norm.  

Read our consultation response here.