A Northern Ireland farm lobby group has said that a number of "intolerable" issues and "lack of independent advice" have caused it to walk out of stakeholder talks on ammonia.

A spokesman for Farmers For Action (FFA) said it "cannot continue" to be part of the Ammonia Stakeholder Forum until several issues are "corrected".

The group said it had sent a letter to Northern Ireland Environment Agency chief executive David Small and heads of other relevant departments.

The letter questioned the legitimacy of the forum, querying why certain groups had not been included.

It said: "The report states ideas would be proffered on the basis of rationale and discussion. This was not the case as there were no trained facilitators at each table.

Ideas recorded were based on the force of argument rather than reasoned logic. The ideas recorded were not based on validated scientific evidence but reflected the political opinion of the most vocal lobby groups.

The group also questioned the independence of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) which had been instructed by the Department of Agriculture (DAERA) to provide scientific evidence.

It recommends:

  1. An evaluation of the Expert Working Group and the Internal Project Board output to be made public;
  2. Consumers, public health and animal welfare groups to be included as relevant stakeholders in the development of a partnership solution;
  3. Specialist meeting facilitators to be engaged to ensure decisions are based on validated scientific evidence;
  4. Independent scientific expertise involved "as a matter of urgency".

In the letter, the group said the Northern Ireland farming community "will not sit back and take all the blame for the surplus ammonia".

Farmers For Action claims farming - particularly grassland farmers - are being scapegoated by the "corporate agri-food supply chain".

However, the group instead believes the solution lies with importers of soya and other South American feed and that a trade for nutrient-rich manure could benefit ecology both locally and overseas.

"In recent weeks, great headlines were made of Belfast docks handling 2.25 million tonnes of imported feed in the last 12 months, which equates to 6,164t a day - here lies the problem and the solution," the letter read.

The ships unload and are therefore empty, therefore, quite capable of taking pig and poultry manure surplus (in whatever form required) to Northern Ireland’s needs back to South America and other countries where it is clearly needed.

"Clearing the Amazon rainforest to regain fertile ground to grow soya and other crops for export without replacing the organic matter obviously means Brazil, as an example, has an ammonia deficit."