Northern Ireland agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, used his attendance at a McDonald’s event, held earlier this week, to confirm his strongly held view that the environment should be regarded as an additional income opportunity by farmers.

The event was held to celebrate McDonald’s 30-year presence in Northern Ireland.

Poots commented: “Farmers in Northern Ireland can feed 10 million people. We are an export orientated industry with GB [Great Britain] our main market.

“Consumption in the UK is heavily dependent on the food produced here in Northern Ireland and this needs to be recognised.

“But massive change will be required within the farming and food sectors. Making this happen will entail investment by the industry itself, and courtesy of the public purse.”

Poots on food production

Minister Poots added that if food production levels are reduced in Northern Ireland, this does not mean demand for food would reduce in the UK.

“Such a scenario will lead to an increase in food imports from places like Brazil, an approach that will actually increase the carbon footprint of the food produced in the UK,” he said.

According to the agriculture minister, farmers can reduce the carbon footprint of the food they produce.

He explained: “We know how to achieve this objective. It’s now a question of investing in the production.”

Economic opportunity

Poots wants farmers in Northern Ireland to view the challenge of climate change as an opportunity.

The minister sees the on-farm production of biofuels as the route to market in this context.

He explained: “Yes, the environment is a challenge. But we have all these animal nutrients on our farms.

“These can be quite easily converted into energy. There is nothing to stop farmers producing all the energy required in Northern Ireland.

“On-farm hydrogen production is the future. The gas can be used to fuel lorry fleets, aircraft and, eventually, the cars that we all drive.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for farmers to embrace the entire climate change agenda. All of this can be developed in ways that deliver a sustainable economy.”

Green energy and food production

Poots also made it clear that the production of green energy and high quality food complement each other.

Moreover, Northern Ireland’s food output levels would not suffer on the back of farmers committing to producing greater quantities of biofuels.

He said: “Such an approach will help deliver a better environment and, ultimately, the development of opportunities for Northern Ireland to export green energy.

“Making all of this happen will require government, the business sector and individuals, working together with a common objective,” he concluded.