Rural lobby group Farmers For Action (FFA) has become one of the first farming groups to publicly support the private member’s Climate Change Bill currently making its way through Stormont.

The proposed legislation, which has been put forward by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, sets a net-zero target for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2045.

However, FFA insists farmers must be supported with fair prices in order to achieve the lofty target.

Speaking during the Agriculture Committee meeting on Thursday (April 29), Bailey said the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association (NIAPA) and the Nature Friendly Farming Network had also been supportive of her plans.

The Climate Change Bill is about to undergo its second reading at Stormont but so far has been met with opposition by many farming groups, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

Several industry bodies have encouraged their suppliers and members to contact their local MLAs regarding the bill and its potential consequences.

‘Corporates blame the farmer for emissions’

William Taylor, FFA’s Northern Ireland coordinator, said: “FFA’s message to rural Northern Ireland on climate change is straight forward – unfortunately accelerating climate change is with us.

“…We all must do everything we can to reduce emissions for the sake of our children and grandchildren, bluff and fine words from corporates and others in the media won’t cut it for them if we don’t act immediately.

“Currently it seems to suit rather too many corporates wearing many different coats to blame the farmer constantly for methane emissions, water quality issues and more.

“This certainly takes the focus off the corporates who, for example, import almost three million tonnes of grains per annum into Northern Ireland to feed the intensive sector, yet have taken no responsibility to date for the surplus manure created.

“The time has come to sit down with corporate processing companies, corporate food wholesalers and corporate food retailers and explain that collectively they will have to foot the bill for returning manure surplus to Northern Ireland requirements to, mainly, but not entirely Brazil, in order to reinstate proper sustainable crop production by adding organic manure/nutrients back into the soil and therefore helping to prevent further rain forest clearance.

“If this could be implemented as soon as possible it would see Northern Ireland’s methane emissions come down and water quality improve drastically.”

Measuring methane

Taylor also highlighted debate over the way methane is currently measured, citing comments made by eminent air quality scientist Dr. Frank Mitloehner.

Dr. Mitloehner argues that as methane is short-lived in the atmosphere it should not be measured in terms of CO2 equivalence – the current measurement system used internationally.

“It must always be pointed out that methane emissions dissipate in the atmosphere after approx 12 years,” Taylor said.

“According to Prof. Tommy Boland of UCD, ‘Of the 560 trillion grams (teragrams) of methane emitted to the atmosphere every year by ruminant livestock, 550 trillion grams are removed,” he said.

‘Climate Change Bill needs to be supported by the Farm Welfare Bill’

A statement from the FFA steering committee read: “To conclude, FFA are happy to support the Climate Change Bill submitted on March 26, 2021, to the assembly, which aims to establish a legal framework for reducing the emissions that are driving climate break down and for adapting to the consequences of our changing climate, in turn enabling Northern Ireland to become a net-zero carbon, sustainable and thriving economy by 2045.

“This is a huge ask but achievable; however, the Climate Change Bill must be complemented with the Northern Ireland Farm Welfare Bill put forward by Northern Ireland Farm Groups and currently with the Agriculture Committee.

“The NI Farm Welfare Bill, which will return family farmers a minimum of the cost of production inflation-linked plus a margin for their produce, would allow NI family farmers to invest in new technology such as electric, hydrogen or methane tractors and farm handlers to reduce chemical use, alongside new ways to harvest methane and generate electricity on-farm, as well as reduce Greenhouse Gas by the creation of new diets being fed to farm animals.”

“‘We can do this – maintain food production and increase crop rotations in a new modern way with new tools! Thus we will be able to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in our industry, control fertilizer levels to Northern Ireland sustainable and vastly reduce sprays with new tools,” the statement concluded.