Northern Ireland’s agri-food stakeholders must accept the industry’s influence on the environment has “not always been positive” attendees at AFBI’s Scientific Outlook conference were told.

Opening the conference on Wednesday (March 24), Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said the relevance of science had “never been more visible” than in has been in recent times.

“It is fundamental to the work of my department, and I recognise the importance of science in addressing the economic, environmental and social challenges associated with growing and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy,” he said.

“Science will be fundamental in helping us address the greatest strategic challenge facing us today – climate change and the flexibility to grasp opportunities open to us outside the EU.

…Our air quality, water quality, biodiversity, soil health and landscape are all heavily influenced by agriculture and we have to accept that the influence of agriculture on the environment has not always been positive.

“But the important point is that we can be positive going forward.”

Poots told delegates sustainability must be “at the heart of everything”.

“With sustainable food production being every bit as important as a sustainable environment,” he said. “We will only address our environmental challenges if agriculture and farmers are part of the solution.”

Poots explained his department’s currently awaited Green Growth strategy would set out a road map to ensure climate action, environmental improvement and sustainable economic and social growth and reiterated that agriculture “will have a key role to play”.

It’s not yet clear what targets the Green Growth plan will set for the industry.

The issue of climate action also came up in AFBI chairman Colin Coffey’s address.

Coffey said the industry was in a “time of significant change” due to the challenges of meeting environmental obligations.

These changes will impact the entire supply chain in some way and working together is the only way we can lessen their impacts.

“AFBI is well-placed to assist in finding solutions to the impact of these changes, with its wide-ranging scientific skillset and research base giving it a unique ability to look at all the issues from the various viewpoints to arrive at the optimum position for the agri-food sector,” he said.