95 Northern Ireland farmers have planted protein crops this year as part of a pilot scheme to reduce the region’s reliance on imported soya, run by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

It’s hoped the scheme will eventually reduce Northern Ireland’s dependence on imported plant protein and will also encourage best practice in crop rotation, pest management and crop diversity.

In 2019, 369,000t of imported soya was used in feedstuffs manufacturing alone in the region. Adding other high-protein animal feeds brings this total to over half a million tonnes.

450% increase in harvested area

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the “positive uptake” amongst farmers of the pilot Protein Crops Scheme (PCS).

Minister Poots has announced that figures recorded for the Single Application saw the number of farming growing protein crops in the region increase by 300% compared to 2020.

Minister Poots said: “The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union provides us with the freedom and flexibility to introduce new agricultural policies which better reflect the specific needs of the farming industry in Northern Ireland.

“I was, therefore, pleased to secure funding for this new and innovative scheme, which we are piloting in 2021 and 2022, as the first step in this process.

“The first year of the Protein Crops Scheme pilot has proved a great success, with an increase in the number of farmers planting Protein Crops of 300%, and an increase in the total area sown of 450% compared to the previous year.

“The scheme will encourage the domestic production of plant protein crops, to help feed our livestock herd.

“This will have multiple benefits, including the substitution of products we currently import from abroad, promotion of sustainable crop rotation and disease management practices, and diversification of our agricultural industry.”

Minister Poots added: “As the pilot will be running for another year, I would encourage all farmers to consider the opportunity that this scheme represents, and consider the potential of sowing protein crops in future years.”

How to join NI’s Protein Crops Scheme pilot

The payment rate for the scheme is £330/ha, with the total area eligible for payment under the Pilot Scheme to be capped at 1,000ha.

If more than 1,000ha are determined as eligible, a linear scaleback will be applied to the determined Protein Crop Payment area to reduce it to 1,000ha. Payment will be made on the scaled-back area.

The minimum area claimed must be at least 0.3ha and applicants may only claim on land planted in protein crops.

Areas of protein crops sown in a mixture with cereals or other crops will not be eligible for the scheme and protein crops declared under the scheme must not be harvested until after July 31.

Applications are now closed for 2021. However, those interested can apply next year using the 2022 Single Application, which will open on March 1, 2022.