Carbon Sequestration

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 13th April 2021.

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Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin 12:45 pm, 13th April 2021

T4. Dr Archibald asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what scientific work his Department is doing to recognise the importance of carbon sequestration in our soil, hedgerows and trees etc. (AQT 1164/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I want to engage closely with the Assembly on that work. We have significant opportunities for carbon storage in our peatlands, but that will involve wetting those peatlands. As a consequence, the farms that are closest will most likely lose the ability to graze their lands, certainly for as long as they are currently able to. Therefore, those farms need to be adequately compensated. The opportunity to tap into a new single farm payment scheme that is not restricted by the European Union gives us the opportunity to do that.

I also want to look at the opportunity of having more structured management of our hedgerows. Hedgerows are superb capturers of carbon. If we bring a requirement into the single farm payment scheme that farms have a structured plan for their hedgerows, it will enable and encourage them to grow those hedgerows for longer periods. One of our biggest assets is our hedgerows, and, if we grow them a metre higher or a metre wider, they will capture massive amounts of carbon.

We can work through a lot of this together without inflicting the massive pain that I referred to in my response to the previous Member. That is what must be done. We must identify the means to ensure that our carbon footprint is reduced, but we must not destroy our farms in the process by doing illogical things.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for that response. I am sure that the Minister agrees that we need to be ambitious about what we do to reduce our carbon footprint and that the role of carbon sequestration and an understanding of that role are really important to the public discourse on this when it comes to recognising farmers' support of the environment. I am sure that the Minister also agrees that we need to ensure that there is adequate knowledge transfer —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Could the Member come to her question?

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

— and that we encourage farmers to do these types of schemes on their land and, as you have referred to, that we reward them appropriately.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Farmers recognise that they have a contribution to make and are engaging positively in making that contribution. It is for the Assembly to engage positively with them, and, therefore, I think that the Assembly would be much wiser to follow the path that I recommend in relation to climate change legislation, because it will work with the farming community. "At least 82%" means "at least", and it could be significantly more than that, if that is achievable. As the science develops and we identify, for example, what level of carbon capture exists in our grasslands and how it can be greater in hilly areas because more of that grass, which has captured carbon from the atmosphere, gets tramped back into the soil, then, perhaps, we can move forward with something more significant. We need to give ourselves a degree of latitude as opposed to enforcing something fixed that will not give us that latitude and will inevitably cause massive harm to our farm families, taking away their livelihoods and the jobs in the industries that are associated with farming. That would be a hugely unacceptable position for me as the AERA Minister and as the Assembly's spokesperson for that sector.