The Ulster Farmers’ Union has accused DAERA officials of using the absence of a departmental minister to ride roughshod over farmers and ignore their legitimate concerns about how some policies are being implemented.
These comments were made by UFU president Barclay Bell after negotiations to find solutions to problems with the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS) ended in deadlock. At issue is a risk of some applications being rejected under Tier 2 on the basis of cumulative ammonia levels across Northern Ireland.
Mr Bell said the UFU recognises that ammonia levels need to be addressed, but claims the frustration amongst farmers comes from DAERA going about this the wrong way. “We have been trying to work with DAERA and NIEA to find a solution. We want to work with them on the extent of the problem and how to tackle it, but there seems to be no movement within the Department. Some of the science and models being used are at best questionable and at worst fundamentally flawed and this is not helping to reassure farmers” said Mr Bell.
NIEA are seeking to tackle ammonia emissions by adding requirements to the agricultural planning process. The UFU believes they would have more success and support from farmers if instead they addressed the problem directly with industry. “Many farmers are unaware of the issue, because DAERA has failed to tell them about it. There has been no communication and no guidance,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU believes this lack of communication is why farmers are angry. “Many have jumped through NIEA’s hoops, paying out thousands for ammonia modelling. But NIEA is refusing to give credit for the many steps taken to tackle ammonia emissions. These include trailing shoe/dribble bar tankers, biomass boilers in poultry houses, farmyard management and major diet improvements.”
The UFU believes if there was an elected minister in place overseeing the work of DAERA and NIEA this issue would have been resolved without the current brinkmanship. “The FBIS is part of the government’s ‘Going for Growth’ plan to develop and expand the industry. NIEA’s refusal to budge means many Tier 2 applications are now in jeopardy. That puts the Going for Growth strategy at risk. Funding will go unspent and progress will stagnate. Our major competitors are blazing ahead, while we are held back by civil servants with no understanding of business or what it will take to make this industry deliver growth and jobs in food processing,” added the UFU president.