2023 will be filled with challenges but agriculture in Northern Ireland is in a good place progress into the future, was the message from the Ulster Farmers’ Union’s Presidential Team at a briefing for agricultural journalists this week.

Led by President, David Brown and Chief Executive, Wesley Aston, the briefing covered many of the issues affecting farmers now and those which are expected to confront them over the next few years.

Speaking positively, Wesley Aston said; “We have the best opportunity we’ve ever had to shape the future of agriculture here. I’m optimistic about the future of agriculture here.”

He said Northern Ireland was the envy of many other parts of the United Kingdom in terms of the future agriculture support measures being proposed and solutions to the carbon and ammonia emissions targets.

David Brown said a year ago looking ahead they were not aware of the invasion of Ukraine yet that event which is continuing has had a severe impact on agriculture.

He said the targets around the Climate Bill were hugely challenging for agriculture.

He said farmers must reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration and storage as climate change would not be halted by limiting food production here and off-shoring it to countries around the world.

He referred to the Union’s document, “NI Agriculture – On a journey to net zero,” launched at an event in Stormont in December, which states that farmers were part of the climate change solution.

But he reminded that NI farmers were already ahead of many other countries in terms of carbon emissions.

Since the 1990 baseline, beef production in Western Europe is currently 2.5 times more efficient in managing emissions than the global average; dairy farming in NI has reduced its carbon intensity by 37 per cent between 1990 and 2020 and greenhouses gas emissions from beef production in the UK were 52 per cent lower than the global average.

He wants the figures to reflect the nature of emissions such as the fact that methane has a life cycle of around 12 years and should not be combined with carbon dioxide in targets.

One of the UFU Deputy Presidents, John McLenaghan, the mostly recently elected, from the Garvagh area, is involved in green energy, poultry and beef.

He is adamant that farmers do not work round the clock and that they should take breaks and holidays as they need to encourage younger people into the farm businesses.

David also referred to the latest buzzword of sustainability which he says must have three pillars;

1, If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable;

2, There is the social side of food production and the ability to feed the nation as the UK is only 60 per cent self sufficient in food with 80 per cent of NI beef going to Great Britain.

3, Environmental sustainability. For example woodlands where there is a target to have 12 per cent of NI covered by 2030 from the present 8.7 per cent which would be a huge challenge as well as the issue of restoring peatlands.

The main issues affecting farmers are currently being raised at the UFU President’s Area Meetings which comes to Enniskillen on Monday evening next, January 23 in the Killyhevlin Hotel.