A leading local research organisation has warned that farming must develop ways to prove and communicate its sustainability credentials to an increasingly sceptical public.
Farmer-funded research body, and CIEL Member, AgriSearch has announced plans to develop a network of up to 50 “Beacon” farms across Northern Ireland to gather evidence for research into sustainable livestock farming systems that deliver for people, planet and profit.
Forming a key part of AgriSearch’s new strategy, the Beacon network will benchmark carbon sequestration on-farm, quantify the benefit of ecosystem services delivered by farmers, and encourage the development of innovative, resilient and sustainable farm systems.
AgriSearch Chairman, Seamus McCaffrey said: “The key challenge facing beef, dairy and sheep farmers over the coming years will be to continue producing high quality, affordable food to feed a growing population, while maximising animal welfare and environmental gains. Indeed, the government target for Northern Ireland to be carbon neutral by 2045 presents a challenge for all parts of industry and society as a whole. Farmers want to play their part in delivering these targets. For too long, agriculture has been presented as part of the problem, but we want to demonstrate through innovative practices and research how farming can be a big part of the solution.
“We have consulted widely in developing our new strategy, and our thinking has been shaped by the responses we have received from key stakeholders including farming organisations, policymakers, wider industry experts and of course farmers themselves. A common finding throughout our conversations was the need to become more focused on farm-level response to economic, environmental and social challenges. “Seamus McCaffrey, Chairman, AgriSearch
“To that end, we intend to create a new network of Beacon farms – beef, dairy and sheep farms that will lead the way in developing cutting edge, innovative farm systems. Building on the success of the GrassCheck project, and representative of all parts of the ruminant sector in Northern Ireland, the Beacon farm network will measure and benchmark levels of carbon sequestration on livestock farms and quantify the benefits of ecosystem services delivered by farmers.
“Another key element of our new strategy will be to pursue partnership opportunities with industry, policymakers and academia that will deliver additional value for our research projects and ultimately the primary producer.
“We want to demonstrate both to farmers and the wider community how farming systems can fit together to deliver for people and the planet, as well as for their individual farm businesses. I would encourage farmers to get involved in this exciting project which help future proof the industry in Northern Ireland by promoting and developing farm systems that are both financially and environmentally sustainable.”
Speaking about the Beacon farm network, Edwin Poots MLA, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, said: “My Officials and AFBI have worked with AgriSearch on a number of different projects and I look forward to seeing AgriSearch develop future collaborative partnerships with its new strategy.
“I recognise the importance of a low carbon circular economy for Northern Ireland in promoting a Green Growth agenda and look forward to seeing how the Beacon farm network will develop innovative farm systems to help address this.”
An information pack and links to the on-line application form can be found on the AgriSearch website