Unsuccessful planning applications for on-farm developments could hamper efforts to reduce ammonia emissions and reduce farm income by between 7%-38%, according to a new report.

The research was conducted by KPMG on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) proposed ammonia restrictions set out in the call for evidence last year.

The report concluded that the proposals have the potential to affect agriculture’s primary economic output, which could fall by up to £35 million.

The report was commissioned by a number of farming organisations to investigate the economic impact of the potential policy changes relating to ammonia on Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.

The organisations are:

  • The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU);
  • The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland (DCNI);
  • The NI Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA);
  • The NI Grain Trade Association (NIGTA);
  • The NI Pork and Bacon Forum (NIPDF);
  • The NI Poultry Federation;
  • The Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

Speaking on behalf of the organisations, UFU president David Brown said: “We have now submitted KPMG’s findings to DAERA, and the report clearly shows that ammonia restrictions in planning could delay progression in reducing emissions and have severe consequences for the future of farming in NI.

“Ammonia is a very complex issue and our farmers are very aware of this, but these proposals have the potential to do the opposite of what is intended.

“The report was commissioned before DAERA and NIEA announced their move in December to go beyond what was set out in the ‘call for evidence’ paper.

“Therefore, it does not take account of the more extreme position that has been adopted in recent weeks in the absence of a minister and without consultation, and we can only assume creating an even greater economic impact than set out in this report.”

Reducing emissions

Brown said harsher ammonia rules will mean that fewer planning applications will be successful, preventing farmers across Northern Ireland from being able to modernise sustainably and reduce emissions further.

UFU president David Brown. Image source: Cliff Donaldson

“Many farmers have been actively embracing practical mitigation measures such as low emission slurry spreading equipment, feed formulations and fertiliser types, however, we are very concerned that necessary investments in improved housing and manure management facilities are likely to be significantly curtailed,” he said.

“Unsuccessful planning applications could lead to a fall in farm infrastructure investment between 20%-25% with consequences for the wider economy – agricultural construction is worth around £60-70 million (level of spend in 2022).

“Without investment in farm infrastructure, farmers could struggle to introduce ammonia mitigation measures such as improved scrapers, slat mats in livestock sheds and covers for slurry pits, critical improvements that are needed to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture delaying progression towards targets.

“They are also vital to further improve animal health and welfare, supporting the production of high-quality food for a growing population.”

A hit to farm income

Brown said when a farm family’s planning application is rejected, the hit to their farm income is significant, and their drive to reduce ammonia emissions is derailed.

“For dairy farmers, income could drop by 21%, 30% for beef and 38% for pigs,” he said.

“As a result, the farm would become inefficient, and it will be impossible for the business to remain competitive impacting NI’s ability to produce food locally.

“Our agri-businesses, rural economy, communities, and consumers will be severely affected by this too.”

Farmers want to reduce their emissions, but KPMG’s report clearly shows these proposals have more potential to stop positive on-farm developments that have benefits for the environment, rather than endorsing them, Brown said.

“We need to find a more balanced way forward that allows farmers to develop and deliver ammonia reductions, ensuring farm families can maintain a viable business as food producers.

“With a new minister now in post, this is a key issue that we will be raising with him in the coming days.”