W1 Summary of Future Agricultural Policy Proposals for Northern Ireland
Authors: Andrew Moxey and Steven Thomson
Ref: RESAS/005/21 – W1
The Report is available in the supporting documents of this publication.
The emerging policy landscape in Northern Ireland (NI) closely resembles that of Scotland. In particular, an economy-wide 'Green Growth strategy, a '10x Economy vision', and Climate Action Plans set overall ambitions towards which agriculture is expected to contribute. 'Agri-tech' is a priority sector in the 10x Economy vision.
The proposed 'Agriculture Policy Programme' will deliver against four priorities identified by the 'Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio for Northern Ireland'. The four priorities are increased productivity, environment sustainability, improved resilience, and functioning supply-chains, all of which feature in Scottish policy discussions in one form or another.
Similarly, as in Scotland, it is acknowledged that the process of change will be challenging and needs to be achieved through a fair and phased transition. This reflects concerns about the current high degree of dependence upon direct support payments, balanced against a desire to achieve a more economically and environmentally responsive sector. Total support expenditure is expected to be held approximately constant, but its distribution will change.
Many of the specific policy proposals echo discussions and analysis in Scotland. For example, the use headage and area-based payments as a form of safety net or resilience support is proposed, accompanied by increased conditionality requirements intended to incentivise improvements in farm productivity and emissions. Suggested conditionality metrics include calving rates and intervals, the recording of genomic data to inform breeding selection, and collection of soil data. The use of LiDAR is suggested for the latter, which may merit consideration in Scotland.
The potential need for production quotas to counter herd expansion due to increased efficiency and profitability is noted, as it has been in Scotland (albeit not so publicly). In addition, progressive degressivity (not absolute capping) is proposed along with more restrictive eligibility definitions of minimum claim areas (10ha) and active farming (essentially having livestock). These could be considered in Scotland but would be contentious.
The emphasis on emission savings extends to consideration of the role of on-farm bioenergy and carbon sequestration, including the potential for voluntary carbon markets to provide additional farm income. The scope and requirements of 'farming for carbon' are not discussed in detail, but are attracting increasing attention in Scotland too and merit further consideration.
'Farming for nature' beyond just emission savings is acknowledged as important, but scant detail is provided on specific policy measures (although the potential for land sparing productivity improvements is noted). Rather, as in Scotland, only vague aspirations to pay on verifiable environmental outcomes are offered along with suggestions that regulatory controls will also be needed.
The pivotal role of advisory support and grant-capital investments is noted, possibly conditional on undertaking planning and training. Similar discussion points have been raised in Scotland, but more thinking is needed on them.
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