Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, has welcomed the principles espoused within the ‘Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio’, recently published by Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots.

According to the commission representative, the document builds on policy priorities, first identified back in 2018.

He said: “Northern Ireland’s farming sectors now have a unique opportunity to help develop support measures that meet their specific need.

Previously, under the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP], the focus was on the development of measures that would have a pan European impact.

“Not surprisingly, the new framework document has a strong climate change focus," he continued.

Ian Stevenson, LMC chief executive explains how Farm Quality Assurance and Greenfields began
Chief executive of LMC, Ian Stevenson

"However, the four main policy pillars identified back in 2018 have been retained, with many of the specific policy proposals for the beef and sheep meat sectors very much in line with the thinking previously put forward by LMC and other red meat stakeholder organisations."

Beef and sheep support

Stevenson pointed to the unequivocal support within the framework document for the attainment of increased productivity levels within local agriculture as a 'win-win' scenario for the beef and sheep sectors.

He explained: “This approach recognises that it is possible to grow output in a wholly sustainable manner.

It is also a policy perspective that puts Northern Ireland in a very unique situation, relative to other regions of the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

Stevenson is quick to point to numerous facets of beef and sheep development that will encompass the securing of enhanced output levels within individual beef and sheep businesses.

These include the use of better genetics, the attainment of higher herd and flock health standards, the finishing of cattle and sheep at younger ages, plus the more efficient use of grass.

He commented:

All of these objectives can be secured in a wholly sustainable manner on the back of the required farm investment programmes, and a commitment on the part of the executive to provide farmers with the continuing professional development opportunities they will need as they look to the future.”

Environmental sustainability

Where future environmental sustainability is concerned, Ian Stevenson recognises the role that farming in Northern Ireland must play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels.

He said: “Beef and sheep farmers will have a key role to play in helping the UK as a whole to meet its net zero emissions target. But other priorities must also be addressed.

"These include improvements in water, air and soil quality while also ensuring that biodiversity standards are maintained and built upon."

Significantly, the LMC representative does not see the issue of environmental stewardship as a challenge for local farmers, rather he views it as an opportunity.

Stevenson continued: “Protecting the environment must be assessed in the context of farmers delivering for the public good.

And in this context, environmental stewardship can and must be officially recognised as an additional income stream for farmers."

Area-based payments in Northern Ireland

In the context of government delivering in ways that enhances the future resilience of farming in Northern Ireland, Stevenson heartily endorses the need for the continuation of an ‘area-based’ resilience payment that acts as a basic safety net.

He explained: “This form of support will be required to shield farmers from the extremes of volatility in the market place, and other challenges that can put severe pressure on their income levels.

Yes, markets are generally in a positive place at the present time. But, we all know that this situation can change significantly with little notice.”

The proposal within the policy framework document relating to the introduction of a headage sustainability measure within the suckler and breeding sheep sectors, also finds favour with the LMC.

“Again, this approach will help to build future resilience at farm level,” Stevenson confirmed.

“These support measures will also help secure many of the other priorities identified within the new strategy framework.”

Cohesion in food supply chain

The need to build improved cohesion within the entire farming and food supply chain is the fourth and final policy pillar discussed within the Poots’ framework document.

Again, Ian Stevenson concurs with the ideas that have been put forward in this regard.

“A chain is only as strong as it weakest link,” he stressed.

The need to provide better education and training for all stakeholders involved in supply chain functionality is obvious. There is also a need to identify and fully recognise the role that each grouping within the supply chain can play.

“E.g. the LMC has provided a valuable cattle deadweight price reporting service for local stakeholders over many decades. In the past we interacted officially with the European Commission. Looking to the future, this communication role will have a very strong UK focus.

Future for Northern Ireland farming

“The evolution of the Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio will provide Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep farmers with a unique opportunity to help determine their own futures," Stevenson continued.

A public consultation on the future development of the specific policies espoused by the document will open later in the autumn.

“I would heartily encourage all local beef and sheep farmers to take part in this process," he concluded.