"Business as usual for many farms will not be an option," Minister Poots warned as he launched the first look of Northern Ireland's new Future Agricultural Policy Framework.
The document, which is the first of its kind, outlines the future shape of farm policy in the region marking the first step away from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy - a power Northern Ireland has gained as a result of Brexit.
However, because of terms agreed in the Northern Ireland Protocol, farm payments in the region will need to operate in line with EU State Aid requirements and will not be subject to the UK Subsidy Control Regime.
While there is much debate over farm support, direct payments have been crucial for the survival of many local farms. Over the last five years, direct CAP support (Pillar 1) amounted to £1.3 billion has accounted for 87% of the cumulative total income of Northern Ireland's farming sector industry.
Four key pillars
The framework lists four key pillars that any future farm support should help achieve:
- Increased productivity;
- Improved resilience;
- Environmental sustainability; and
- A responsive supply chain.
The four key outcomes are designed to complement each other, with improvement in one set up to have a positive effect on the others.
For example, the reward of greater productivity is the more efficient use of finite resources and a lower environmental footprint. Producing higher-value products through product innovation can increase profit margins, resilience and environmental sustainability.
Metrics will be developed around each pillar and they will form the yardsticks against which all future policy interventions will be judged.
Care will also be taken to avoid situations where gains in one area are achieved at the expense of others.
"The future is about delivering both food and environmental outcomes in a sustainable way," Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots wrote in his foreword.
My ultimate aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland takes full advantage of the opportunity to develop a sustainable agricultural industry in which all farmers are supported on an equitable basis to make best use of the assets at their disposal, and to invest in all forms of capital - physical, environmental and human.
"This will be underpinned by a set of bespoke measures that will ensure the delivery of profitable, productive, environmentally sustainable, resilient and supply chain focused outcomes tailored for Northern Ireland.
"We know that economic development must not come at the cost of environmental degradation. The UK Government has set a target that the UK will be carbon neutral by 2050, and whilst we do not yet have a target in legislation for Northern Ireland, it will come and agriculture will need to play its fair part in meeting that obligation."
A public consultation on the proposals will begin this autumn.
Publishing the Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio, Minister Poots said: “Farming has changed significantly over the past 100 years, with changing methods and investment in technologies across differing sectors.
"It is, therefore, very apt in this centenary year that we embark upon the development of farming support policies which target actions to meet our local priorities and needs much more effectively for the foreseeable future.
Business as usual for many farms will not be an option. The future is about delivering both food and environmental outcomes in a sustainable way. Our farmers are up for the challenge and, indeed, many have already invested in green technology and embraced environmentally-friendly farming practices.
“All stakeholders with an interest in food production and land use must be involved in the co-design of new measures and interventions.
"This will ensure that we have the right measures to boost efficiency and resilience whilst enabling a decrease in the agri-food industry’s environmental footprint and creating the means to enhance our natural assets and address climate change. Our food producers should have confidence in their future whilst delivering multiple public benefits.
“...This framework will form the basis of ongoing discussions with industry and stakeholders as my officials develop policy proposals, on which I intend to consult in the autumn. I look forward to engaging with all those in the farming industry as we move forward with my vision for its future.”