The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is supporting the ‘carbon survey’ project, recently announced by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

The work will specifically target the 11,600 members of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) in Northern Ireland and will assess the carbon status of all the enterprises on these farms.

UFU president, David Brown is chair of the Carbon Steering Group, established as part of the over-arching sustainability body that will guide the farming and food sectors’ response to the challenge of climate change.

“The steering group will work closely with a technical working group, which will comprise representatives from all of the agri-food sectors. LMC is one of these bodies,” Brown said.

“The time for talking is over. Climate change legislation for Northern Ireland was enacted last year. We are expecting specific climate action plans for the various sectors within Northern Ireland, including agriculture to be agreed over the coming months.

“The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] will be driving this process forward.”

Carbon footprint

Brown explained that Northern Ireland produces beef and milk with less than half the carbon footprint of the global average.

“However we the need the data to back up this point in the clearest way possible,” Brown stressed.

According to the UFU president, the clock is ticking where farming’s response to climate change is concerned.

“The industry must now actively respond to the targets that are laid down in legislation. But more than this, the supermarkets and other businesses that buy the food we produce here want to see clear evidence that we have started down the road towards a carbon net zero position,” he continued.

“All the stakeholders within local agriculture gave a commitment to DAERA that industry would come up with a plan of action that could be included within a business proposal, allowing the draw-down of the monies required to fund all data capturing activities.

“In other words, DAERA will pay for the completion of all relevant farm carbon surveys plus the generation of the accompanying carbon footprint values and mitigation recommendations issued to individual farmers.”

Carbon calculator

Brown specifically highlighted the use of the Agrecalc carbon calculator, which will be used as part of the LMC carbon survey work.

“This approach constitutes an industry standard led approach,” he said.

“What we have now is a system that will hold up as a totally independent process in all circumstances.

“The union has already made it clear that farmers must not be out of pocket, in any way, where these processes are concerned.”

Brown stressed that there is also an onus on processers to make sustainability bonus payments available to farmers who are taking the management decisions required to reduce the carbon footprint of their businesses.

The LMC has confirmed that all FQAS members will be asked to participate in a carbon survey every three years.

The survey will be carried out on the same day as a FQAS inspection. However, these are two separate processes. It has no bearing on the outcome of an inspection and vice versa. There are no pass or fail criteria associated with the survey.

Participation in the survey will be mandatory on the part of all FQAS members.

Its purpose is to help generate a specific carbon footprint for individual farm businesses. It is anticipated that the carbon surveys will commence later this year.