Have you ever paused to consider the complex interaction between farming and climate change? It’s a topic ripe for discussion, especially in light of what direction government polices might take, with some in our society intent on pushing an exclusive climate narrative.

In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that the agriculture and farming sector has faced its fair share of unwarranted scrutiny and criticism, particularly concerning its impact on climate change.

As an advocate for both the agricultural community and environmental sustainability, I feel compelled to address these misconceptions and to shed light on the reality of the situation.

First and foremost, it is crucial to recognise the multifaceted role of agriculture in mitigating climate change.

Contrary to popular belief, Northern Ireland’s agricultural sector is not a villain in the climate change narrative, but rather a key player in the quest for sustainability.

Farmers play a vital role in carbon sequestration through practices such as tree plantation, soil conservation, and grassland management.

These efforts not only help offset emissions, but also contribute to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience.

Amongst much of noise of negative rhetoric, it is crucial to acknowledge the immense strides that our farmers have made and continue to make in embracing sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.

Through advancements in technology, improved management practices, and targeted policy interventions, farmers have made significant strides in improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and enhancing overall environmental sustainability.

Another significant development the farming community – often in conjunction with wider society – has made in combating climate change is the expansion of renewable energy generation on farms.

Many farmers have diversified by installing solar panels, wind turbines, or anaerobic digestors.

Not only do these renewable energy systems reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but they also provide a source of income and help to offset carbon emissions from farm operations.

It is crucial to dispel the misconception that blaming farmers for climate change is an effective or fair approach to addressing environmental challenges.

Instead of scapegoating the agricultural sector, we must adopt a collaborative and inclusive approach that engages farmers as partners in climate solutions.

By supporting and incentivising sustainable farming practices, investing in agricultural research and innovation, and fostering dialogue between stakeholders, we can work together to achieve meaningful progress towards a more sustainable future.

The resilience and adaptability of Northern Ireland’s agricultural community in the face of climate-related challenges deserve commendation.

From extreme weather events to shifting growing seasons, our farmers have demonstrated remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulness in navigating adversity and ensuring food security for our nation.

One cannot overstate the significance of the agriculture and farming sector to our economy.

It’s easy to forget that farming isn’t just about growing crops or raising livestock; it’s a fundamental pillar of our economy, providing employment, generating revenue, and supporting countless businesses throughout the supply chain.

Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in driving export growth, with Northern Ireland’s agricultural products esteemed for their excellence and reliability in international markets.

Without our farmers, our local economy would suffer greatly.

Moreover, it is essential to consider the broader societal benefits provided by the farming sector.

From producing nutritious food to supporting rural economies and cultural heritage, agriculture plays a fundamental role in sustaining livelihoods and fostering community resilience.

By promoting local food systems and reducing food miles, farmers contribute to a more sustainable and resilient food supply chain, thereby mitigating the environmental impacts associated with long-distance transportation and globalised food production.

Innovation lies at the heart of our agricultural success story. Our farmers embrace cutting-edge technologies and best practices to optimise productivity while minimising environmental impact.

From precision farming techniques to sustainable land management initiatives, Northern Ireland’s agriculture and farming sector exemplify a harmonious balance between tradition and modernity, ensuring both economic prosperity and environmental stewardship.

The concerns of Northern Ireland’s farming community cannot be brushed aside in favour of a singular focus on climate change.

While environmental sustainability is undeniably vital, it must not come at the expense of the quality of our agricultural products.

People still want to eat farm produce, therefore if we remove livestock agriculture from NI, we will be importing these products from other regions where emissions are higher, a lot more food miles will be used importing those goods to NI – exporting our environmental problems to those countries will not benefit the global warming issue.

In April, 2021, the UK Climate Change Committee advised DAERA that an 82 per cent reduction in emissions from all of NI by 2050 is a balanced target.

Unfortunately, those who pushed the NI Climate Change Bill in the last Assembly mandate ignored that advice, and set a much more challenging target.

Even at this early stage of the implementation of that legislation, it is proving very difficult, with three statutory targets already missed.

We further hear that implementation of the Climate Change legislation will cost local government departments an estimated £2.3billion over the next three years.

That is excluding the cost to local businesses and the public.

As someone who is committed to representing the interests of our rural communities, I vehemently oppose any agenda that unfairly undermines the contributions and concerns of hard-working farmers.

We must find a balanced approach that respects both the imperative of addressing climate change and the needs of our agricultural sector.

So, the next time you see someone pointing the finger at farmers for climate change, I encourage you to pause and ponder.

Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but let’s acknowledge the positive strides that farmers are making, and recognise their potential as allies in the fight against climate change.

Through collaborative and inclusive efforts, we can navigate a path towards a brighter future that respects the essential contributions of our farming community, all while tackling the obstacles posed by climate change.

Tom Elliott is an Ulster Unionist MLA and former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Councillor for Erne North.