Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, Victor Chestnutt, has responded to the COP26 pledge by many world leaders to cut global methane emissions by 30% over the next decade.

He said: "Methane is a natural by-product from cows due to food digestion, therefore it's very difficult to treat, and the UFU is still considering what this announcement means for local farmers.

To date, through improvements in animal production and nutrient management, Northern Ireland's farmers have already done good work to reduce methane, but we recognise that there is room for further improvement.

"There has been significant research and investment in new technologies that will help us increase our methane reduction on-farm further, but more investment and a long-term commitment from government is needed," he added.

'It's vital that our ability to produce high-quality food is not limited by these calls to reduce emissions.”

Measuring emissions

According to the UFU president, all trade deals entered into by the British government must conform to the same world leading food production standards that are expected of UK farmers, and should include similar commitments, where emission reduction targets are concerned.

Chestnutt commented: "To continue making positive progress in methane reduction, other methane producers need to take action, and we need more accurate methods of measuring methane emissions to understand the true scale of the issue.

UK agriculture is a uniquely versatile sector, which supplies food, captures and stores carbon and helps to generate clean energy. It is a key part of the climate change solution. This is a message that we reiterated alongside our UK farming union counterparts during our visit to COP26.

“Our farmers are already contributing significantly to the UK target of 'net zero' by 2050. However, we recognise this can be improved further with the right policy backed by scientific evidence," Chestnutt added.

The UFU represenative added that this is essential to continue making positive progress in combating climate change in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole, supporting local farmers without lessening their ability to produce quality, sustainable products.

Trade deals

The UFU has already indicated that Northern Ireland’s agri-food sectors have been completely undermined, as a result of the recent trade deal agreed between the UK and New Zealand.

Chestnutt explained: “Combined with the Australia agreement at the beginning of this year, government has granted access to a significant increase of imported food allowing it into our market, with no guarantees about how it was produced or if it meets our world leading standards.

To make the situation all the more dire, nothing of substance was gained for our farmers.

"The future of our unique farm family structure across Northern Ireland has become very vulnerable overnight, as it could be severely damaged by the market access government has granted to both New Zealand and Australia," he added.

The UFU has said that it is extremely concerning for the red meat, dairy and horticulture farm sectors and for the public.

"Our consumers who take pride in supporting local farmers for the work that they do, producing high-quality, trustworthy, local food, looking after the environment and boosting employment in rural areas, have been sold-out too," Chestnutt concluded.