The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned that Northern Ireland’s draft ammonia strategy contains elements of serious concern to farmers.
UFU said its committees have scrutinised the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) draft ammonia strategy and are concerned about proposed targeted measures on international designated sites.
That includes a ban on spreading manure within 50m of an internationally designated site by January 2025 and a requirement for all slurry within 1km of an internationally designated site to be spread by low emission slurry spreading equipment (LESSE) by January 2025, with the potential for other enhanced measures.
UFU president David Brown explained: “With the majority of Northern Ireland’s coast, loughs, hills and river systems listed as designated sites, the targeted measures focused on these specific areas has the potential to seriously hinder farming activities and impact a significant number of farmers financially.
“Ammonia is typically seen as a livestock problem, but all sectors will be affected with large areas of arable land being potentially caught up in the proposed policy. This is something that many farmers are completely unaware of and DAERA haven’t even bothered to do any modelling on the potential costs to the farms in these areas.”
UFU observed that in the consultation document, DAERA states that it wants to encourage “traditional farming practices” in these areas but fails to elaborate on this, which UFU says leaves farmers worried that their activities close to designated sites will be severely restricted.
“DAERA’s reference to ‘traditional farming practices’ is somewhat insulting to farmers and also suggests a lack of understanding about potential unintended consequences,” Brown said. “Farmers simply do not have the financial means to suddenly stop managing areas of land and DAERA need to go back to the drawing board with some of these proposals.”
Concern around splash plates
UFU is also concerned about plans to phase out splash plates on all farms. “LESSE is extremely expensive to purchase, with no firm commitment to financial support being made by DAERA,” Brown said. “If a contractor needs to be used as an alternative, smaller farmers tend to be put to the end of a long list, losing their flexibility to spread slurry during the most optimum conditions. This proposal will hit smaller farmers hard across NI and needs to be re-examined by DAERA.”
The deadline for consultation responses on the ammonia strategy is March 3, and the UFU has urged Northern Irish farmers to feed back.
“The majority of farmers across NI are going to be impacted by this ammonia strategy regardless of what they farm,” Brown said. “The proposed measures have the potential to cause serious issues and it’s important that every farmer makes their concerns known. We encourage everyone to attend the DAERA meetings next week to help ensure that appropriate changes are made to this proposed ammonia strategy.
“The UFU will be finalising its response at the end of the month. We ask members to feed their views through their committee representatives for inclusion and we will be making it clear that many of the proposals are unacceptable in their current form,” said the UFU president.
The DAERA meetings are scheduled for Monday February 13, at Greenmount Campus at 7.30pm, and on Wednesday February 15, at Loughry Campus at 7.30pm.