The future of tillage in Northern Ireland
An in-depth examination of its tillage sector confirmed the key role crop production plays in Northern Ireland’s agricultural industry.
A recently released report, commissioned by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Ulster Arable Society (UAS), recommended the creation of an annual £ 30million fund to encourage investment and innovation within the crop sector.
This level of support is believed to help put Northern Ireland’s tillage on a par with its counterpart south of the border, where support from the Targeted Agricultural Modernization Program (TAMS) is already available. .
More funding needed for tillage
The capital expenditures identified in the report would be specifically used to encourage the development of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies in Northern Ireland, while also allowing growers to invest in new crop management systems.
It is envisaged that subsidies of up to 50% could be eligible for farmers, given the poor economic situation of the arable sector in Northern Ireland at present.
With regard to the future supply of area payments, the report recommends that these be designed and financed to encourage active farmers to carry out activities that offer real economic and environmental benefits.
They should also offer a certain degree of resilience when market returns fall below sustainable levels.
It is also proposed that a support rate, equivalent to 85% of the Basic Payment Scheme (RPB) 2021, should be proposed.
In turn, society as a whole would benefit from a number of environmental and business benefits provided by plow growers on their behalf.
Tillage support levels
The assistance would be offered at two levels. The first of these is a standard payout rate.
This would be offered at a BPS rate equivalent to 85% to all producers meeting agreed crop management and environmental standards.
Basic support, paid at the equivalent of 35% of BPS, would be available for those who are not available to meet the aforementioned standard criteria on specific parts of their farms, for example on leased land.
Significantly, the report also recommends the creation of a marketing, promotion and information organization.
This would be centrally funded and would support the generic promotion of local products and foods in Northern Ireland.
The new body would also provide technical support to individual companies along the supply chain.
According to the report, developing efficient supply chains should cover all products and processes throughout the chain and recognize costs within elements of the chain.
The long-awaited publication also addresses, in some detail, the need to fundamentally change land tenure practices in Northern Ireland.
Specifically, steps need to be taken to clarify the tax situation regarding long-term leasing of land, as opposed to conacre.
Incentives should be put in place to encourage long-term leasing of land, with the report making specific reference to measures taken in this regard by the Irish authorities.
Whatever action is taken, it must take into account the need for potato and vegetable producers to access “fresh land” with a minimum of bureaucracy.
The arable sector in Northern Ireland provides around 8% of the industry’s gross production with production of £ 70.8 million (€ 82.3 million) in 2019 from 42,900 ha.
The area of arable crops in NI has declined steadily over the past century, from over 400,000 ha in the 1850s, as the demand for meat and dairy products increased and, with mechanization, the demand for meat and dairy products increased. oats to feed horses were dwindling.
The trend continues, with a 20% reduction in cultivated area over the past 10 years, largely due to differences in profitability between crop and livestock businesses.