NI Agriculture Minister and agri committee chairman visit Antrim farms and bogland

Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister and agriculture committee chairman made good on promises to meet with farmers to discuss solutions to the region’s ammonia stalemate.

Farmers invited Minister of Agriculture Edwin Poots and Declan McAleer to visit their farms and nearby bogland at the Ulster Farmers’ Union’s ‘drive-in’ (UFU’s) AGM last month at Balmoral Park.

The first visit of the day (Monday, August 10) was to Garry Bog in Ballybogy, Ballymoney, and involved discussions on the potential benefits of hydrology in aiding restoration.

Garry Bog is one of the largest areas of lowland raised bog in Northern Ireland including rare sphagnum mosses.

The tour also included visits to Conor and Cathal Casey’s dairy farm in Cloughmills to see the investment they have made in state-of-the-art calf-rearing facilities and robotic milking.

The group attended a UFU office-bearers’ meeting in Ballycastle before visiting beef and sheep farmer Brian Jamieson’s farm in Ballintoy later in the afternoon.

The visit was hosted by UFU president Victor Chestnutt, deputy presidents David Brown and William Irvine, with North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey and Philip McGuigan, vice-chair of the agriculture committee, also joining.

UFU chief executive Wesley Aston and policy manager James McCluggage were also in attendance, along with two representatives from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Bronwyn McGahan, Sinn Féin policy advisor.

Aside from the ammonia stalemate and its impact on agricultural planning, a wide range of important issues were discussed including:

  • Brexit;
  • Future trade agreements;
  • The financial impact of Covid-19; and
  • A future TB strategy.

Speaking after his visit, Minister Poots said: “I was pleased to accept an invitation from the UFU to meet with farmers and stakeholders in the north of Antrim to discuss a number of current issues, including Covid-19 recovery, future agri-policy and the wider needs of the industry and how DAERA and the farming community can continue to work in partnership to ensure the industry is sustainable in the long term.

“We also had the opportunity to visit Garry Bog and discussed how improving bog hydrology can help with the resilience of these sites to nitrogen impacts.

“Since my first day in office, I have supported and championed the agriculture sector and will continue to do so.”

West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer, who chairs the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee, said: “This was a very interesting series of engagements and a great opportunity to meet farmers from different sectors.

There were many issues raised including the implications of Brexit, the need to robustly tackle TB and the future shape of farm support; however, our visits were dominated by the farmers’ stories of resilience, innovation and planning for the future.

“Whilst the Covid lockdown restricted our movements for the past five months, the partial lifting of these restrictions has provided a welcome opportunity to get out and meet the sector and hear directly from our farmers on the frontline. I am very thankful to Victor and the team at UFU for taking this initiative.”