The appointment of a new board at the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) is crucial for agriculture as a whole in Northern Ireland.

At a fundamental level, it brings a degree of welcome stability back to an organisation that is already playing an important role in determining the response of all the farming sectors to the carbon and sustainability-related challenges that confront the entire industry.

LMC will also remain tasked with the job of marketing the beef and lamb produced in Northern Ireland while coordinating the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (SBLAS).

For obvious reasons, both of these activities fit together like pieces within a jigsaw puzzle.

LMC chief

At a practical level, the appointment of the new board team will facilitate the appointment of a new LMC chief executive officer (CEO).

The man who formerly held this position, Ian Stevenson, is the new man at the helm of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland (DCNI).

Colin Smith has been the commission’s acting chief executive since the beginning of October.

With the new board team now in place and the soon-to-be made appointment of a new CEO, LMC will have a unique opportunity to re-affirm its priorities for the future.

In my opinion, one of these must be the confirmation that the sustainability strategy agreed for agriculture in Northern Ireland is working and will continue to deliver.

Much of this policy is a direct response to the passing of Stormont’s Climate Act back in 2021.

However, recent weeks have seen a number of fringe organisations trying to sabotage much of this policy agenda – a process that is serving only to create doubt in the minds of farmers.

Sustainable future

The biggest challenge facing all the farming sectors at the present time is that of putting the entire industry on a truly sustainable footing for the future.

But more than this, the industry must clearly demonstrate that it is committed to securing a low carbon footprint.

Making this happen will require farmers to provide the information/data required.

And there is no way of getting around this challenge. There is now legislation in place, obligating farmers to play their part in securing a lower carbon footprint for the industry as a whole.

As previously mentioned, this all comes back to the figures.

Given this backdrop, the ongoing work of the LMC to pilot survey 150 farmers, in order to establish carbon baseline for these businesses is so important.

This initiative will confirm whether it is feasible to take a similar approach across the industry as a whole.

So important is this work that every stakeholder organisation within Northern Ireland’s farming industry should be fully supporting it. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the present time.

The bottom line is this – government, food retailers and food processers are requiring that farming businesses clearly confirm their progress towards a low carbon future.

Moreover, independent verification that this is happening must be forthcoming.

There are huge opportunities coming down the track for our farming and food sectors if they are put on a wholly sustainable footing.


At a very fundamental level, this will entail driving greater levels of efficiency across both industries. If this can be achieved, greater levels of profitability should follow.

But none of this can be achieved if farmers do not cooperate at a very fundamental level and make available the required performance data, relating to their businesses.

The next question that arises is this – what happens to the information that is secured from farm businesses?

We already have assurances from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that data received at individual farmer level goes nowhere, other than being collated to determine industry trends.

But there is a much more fundamental point to be made here. The reality is that information made available by individual farming operations is the sole property of the businesses concerned.

No-one has the right to avail of it, without the permission of the people involved.

It’s called data protection and these rights have been enshrined in law for many years.

Meanwhile, the LMC is working on behalf of agriculture in Northern Ireland as a whole to develop a survey process that will make the process of securing on-farm data as efficient as possible.