Nature-friendly Farming

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 7th June 2021.

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Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 4:45 pm, 7th June 2021

I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises the vital role that nature-friendly farming must play in tackling the nature and climate emergencies, at the same time as providing a profitable future for the sector; believes that future agricultural policies for Northern Ireland must enable a transition to profitable, sustainable, nature-friendly farming, in order to provide nutritious food, increase farm business resilience and combat the nature and climate emergencies; and welcomes the comments by the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that future agricultural policy should ensure an industry that is environmentally sustainable and that displays improved resilience to external shocks.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

The AERA Committee welcomes the opportunity to highlight the vital role that farming communities in the North play in supporting the economy and in protecting, sustaining and developing our environment. The Committee believes that nature-friendly farming practices are crucial for the long-term viability and success of our agriculture sector and that farming communities must be adequately supported to adopt such measures so that they can continue to thrive in the future.

The importance of agri-food production to our society cannot be overstated. Our local farmers return well in excess of £2 billion worth of produce annually, and the high quality of our dairy, beef and crops are recognised across our markets and those of neighbours as some of the best in the world. Our agriculture sector is essential in supporting local employment, particularly in the food and drinks industry, and in enabling rural communities to survive and prosper.

However, our farming sector faces stark challenges and uncertainties. The fallout from Brexit continues to present a threat, with the likes of the impending free trade agreement between the British Government and Australia likely to undermine our competitiveness and access to markets, along with the uncertainty about funding for direct payment due to the loss of EU finance. The agriculture sector also faces a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as local farmers seek to recoup the losses from the drop in consumer demand over the past 18 months, so the sector will remain vulnerable to any future economic shocks for some time. The challenge of climate change, which affects us all, also poses some significant questions for farmers about how they can maintain output whilst contributing to strategies to reduce negative effects on our environment.

In order to weather those challenges, it is vital that our local farming communities are supported to be resilient, sustainable and productive in their activities, and the Committee believes that nature-friendly farming should be at the core of future strategies that enable that. Embracing nature-friendly farming means that local farmers should be encouraged, directed and supported to engage in practices that not only deliver high-quality and safe produce but help our ecosystem to thrive and flourish. In recent weeks, the Committee has heard from a range of stakeholders about the importance of ensuring that our agriculture sector is sustainable economically and environmentally. Nature-friendly farming presents an opportunity to deliver that. There is the potential for each and every farmer to engage in nature-friendly farming through simple measures that include hedgerow restoration, tree planting and placing wild flowers at field margins. There are many examples of local farmers actively engaging in sustainable practices that have helped to improve the organic health and biodiversity of their land, leading to better productivity and reduced costs.

Many opportunities are presented by nature-friendly farming. For example, through measures to restore the land's capacity to store and sequester carbon, farmers can play their part in tackling the effects of climate change. There is also a potential economic benefit to farmers of developing produce via sustainable methods, given the rising market and demand for nature-friendly products and the increasing interest from consumers in the origin of agri-foods and the eco-effects of what they are buying. A shift away from intensive farming measures and overproduction, including the excessive use of fertiliser and animal feeds, may also help to improve the long-term sustainability and viability of our natural land resources, thereby ensuring that our farming communities can continue to produce goods and be productive for years to come.

However, our farmers cannot do that on their own, and the Committee recognises the challenges faced by our sector in making changes at a time of uncertainty. That is why our farming communities must be actively and appropriately supported to make a just transition to engage in nature-friendly farming.

In particular, consideration will have to be given to how future payment schemes manage the dual aims of agri-food production and engaging in eco-friendly practices, as well as to how farmers can be incentivised and rewarded for nature-friendly farming activity.

Farmers will also need to be supported through formal training, continuing professional development and ongoing knowledge exchange in order to identify and deliver sustainable practices on their farm and share ideas and innovations with peers. Schemes must be developed to ensure that work practices will be replicated speedily and effectively throughout the sector, with farmers being supported by grants and the provision of adequate resources to undertake pilots.

Government-directed policy oversight is essential, and it is vital that the importance of nature-friendly farming and its benefits are recognised and included in the planning and development of future agricultural strategy. The Committee welcomes comments by the Minister that future policy will focus on delivering improved resilience and environmental sustainability in the agriculture sector and that the overarching aim of the Department's future rural policy framework is to create a sustainable rural community where people want to live, work and be active.

The role of nature-friendly farming and the potential opportunities that it can bring to our farming communities must be recognised in future strategic planning, and our local farmers must be fully equipped and supported to transition to eco-friendly practices that will help them to be economically and environmentally productive in the decades ahead.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I call Mr William Irwin to move the amendment that stands in his name.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after "Northern Ireland" and insert: "must ensure the continuation of a transition to profitable, productive, sustainable, nature-friendly farming, in order to provide nutritious food, increase farm business resilience and combat the nature and climate emergencies; and welcomes the comments by the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that future agricultural policy should ensure an industry that is environmentally and financially sustainable, while increasing productivity and that displays improved resilience to external shocks."

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

You will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members will have five minutes to speak.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and to move the amendment, which suggests some minor changes to reflect the fact that farming is already in transition. The amendment also seeks a balance between environmental and financial sustainability. As someone who has been involved in farming for many years, I fully understand the importance of working with nature and ensuring that farming is complementary to the countryside and the environment. From my experience of a lifetime of farming, I am firmly of the view that farming and the environment go hand in hand. It must be said that without the thousands of hours of hard work by the farming community right across Northern Ireland, our environment would be in a very different state today.

Managed farmland accounts for up to 75% of land in Northern Ireland. Farming in its purest form, the production of food, provides a very important service to the environment and the maintenance of the countryside while providing a vital service in feeding the population. That said, there are, of course, many challenges associated with climate and having a sustainable agri-food industry, and the broad thrust of the amendment focuses on the importance of balance. We need an industry that is financially and environmentally sustainable. The two go hand in hand.

In recent weeks, indeed, a series of debates and questions has centred on climate, and, in the contributions, farming has been a key part of the debate. In previous contributions, I have urged a sensible approach to climate change and the future sustainability of farming. I have urged against hurrying down a path whereby over-ambitious targets are set that do more harm than good in the longer term. That remains my view.

The Committee, as part of its study of nature-friendly farming, heard a few weeks ago from DAERA officials. In their presentation, they referred to the future of agriculture and an agricultural policy. They outlined the Minister's four priorities on the issue. Those are supportable objectives, sensible and reasonable, to enhance the industry and best equip it well into the future. The four priorities are interdependent, and it is widely acknowledged, by the Minister and the Department, that nature-friendly farming is at the core of that outlook and forward plan.

The agri-food sector is a success story in Northern Ireland in terms of its employment provision and general worth to our economy. The economic aspect of the debate cannot be overstated, and a thriving and responsive agri-food sector is critical to Northern Ireland's economic stability now and in the future. A thriving agri-food sector has very positive economic knock-on effects.

As I said, it is important that, when decisions are taken that have the legislative power to compel the industry to take an action or meet a target, such instructions are balanced, achievable and come with support measures in place to assist the industry to take that course of action. Indeed, Minister Poots has, in a relatively short time, delivered on a number of commitments such as the small woodland grant, the Forests for our Future programme and the farm business investment scheme, which has provided vital support to our farmers in the move to low-emission spreading systems. He also supported farmers to purchase equipment to increase the precision of the use of inputs like GPS for fertiliser spreading and the protein crop pilot. Those are only some examples of announcements that the Minister made this year.

In the past, we had EU directives, which, in many cases, required considerable action from farmers. The Department has recognised the best way to achieve the necessary outcomes, and a model of financial support has been introduced to assist with that transition and the use of technology to achieve the targets. That is a proven method of ensuring a level of success, and it also has the knock-on effect of assisting other industries — for example, if a machinery purchase is required. Recent support schemes have had a very welcome additional beneficial effect in the manufacturing and engineering sectors, and that is a good news story. Approaches like that must continue with the required actions from the agri-food sector to tackle climate change. Support and assistance for any transition must be forthcoming.

As a farmer and someone who listens acutely to the farming industry, I am all too aware of the issues of resilience and the need to limit the impact of what are referred to as "external shocks". It can be difficult to mitigate external forces that are totally outside the control of an individual and the effect that that can have on a business. There is certainly merit in trying to improve the resilience of the agri-food sector, especially as we move away from the EU support model and seek to take advantage of the opportunities that continue to arise from Brexit.

During the pandemic, and despite the predictions that agriculture would suffer after Brexit, it has been widely noted that our agriculture industry has performed very well and has risen to the challenge of COVID. The sector has continued at pace throughout the pandemic to ensure that the needs of consumers are met. The demand for agri-food produce continues to be strong, and that is important for security of supply and the maintenance of our supply chain system in Northern Ireland. Any future changes to the operation of the agri-food sector must have a firm focus on security of supply. The less we rely on other global markets for our produce, the more secure our supply chain can become.

The Minister has stated that he has a focus on an:

"efficient, sustainable, and responsive supply chain".

All those attributes can improve general resilience.

On climate change, I note from previous contributions that we have a private Member's Bill, and DAERA's Bill is also coming. I urge a reasoned approach to climate change. The input of the Climate Change Committee, which makes a very sensible set of suggestions, should be used as a benchmark to move forward in a manner that reflects the broad direction of the amendment and ties in many aspects of nature-friendly farming in the process.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

The SDLP supports the motion and I hope, too, the amendment. It is important to say that the vast majority of farmers want to play their part in tackling the nature and climate emergencies. Indeed, many of them already do so. I am sure that Mr Irwin is one of those people. Many still need to be incentivised to make the necessary changes to transition to profitability, sustainability and nature-friendly farming to combat those emergencies. Seventy-five per cent of our land is managed as farmland, and agriculture remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the North at 27%. That share is expected to increase to 35% by 2030 as a combined result of the improved performances of other sectors and a reduction of only 3% in agricultural emissions. That is not sustainable.

Nature-friendly farming practices provide a template for farm businesses to remain productive, profitable and sustainable while addressing the climate emergency and enhancing biodiversity. The AERA Committee has heard about that extensively from farm businesses.

The farming model that agriculture policy to date encourages has, in fact, contributed to the long-term decline in the health of our natural environment, with biodiversity loss, rising greenhouse gas emissions and declining water and air quality. I was out late last night for a walk when I ran into a neighbour, who remarked that, on one of the small roadways that he used to walk every evening — we live in a rural area — he used to hear various birds but that they are no longer there. That was a very acute observation by someone who would know.

There is an economic benefit to farm businesses adopting nature-friendly practices. Better business planning can reduce costs and improve their ability to withstand economic shocks. Nature-friendly farming systems can also deliver a more diverse farmed landscape, as well as premium products. Restoring healthy soils is key to maintaining a sustainable food production system that can protect the environment and boost the economy. Supporting pollinators and other beneficial insects can improve crop productivity. Natural pest management can be a more effective long-term solution than artificial pesticides, given the damage that some of them have done. Restoring functional natural processes in upland areas, watercourses, wetlands and floodplains can protect against flooding and provide drought resilience. Local food supply chains are more secure and reduce the environmental cost of transporting products. I do not know what the environmental consequences of a trade deal with Australia might be or whether it will cause a domino effect among some South American countries, but, rest assured, the environmental and financial cost of transportation from those countries is much greater than that for local produce. It is not rocket science, but it might require a change of mindset for some.

We have the opportunity to build a new farming system that is fit for the future and that supports profitable, productive farming, which directly tackles the climate crisis and enhances biodiversity. We need to take the lead in supporting a new model of farming and encourage those farmers who need encouragement to adopt its practices, because we know that many are deeply committed custodians of the land that they own and farm. We need policies to incentivise some farmers to deliver the public benefits that nature-friendly farming can deliver.

As a member of the AERA Committee, I have heard from the advocates of nature-friendly farming, and it was inspirational to listen to them and hear about their efforts. I have also heard from departmental officials. There is much on which they agree. The difference, however, is perhaps one of focus. Our role as Members of the legislative Assembly is to ensure that the focus of the Executive's agriculture policy is in the right place, and every indication is that it has been. It has been unerring up until now. We must ensure that we have the policies in place to support farmers who have already made the necessary transition and that we incentivise those who still have to follow their lead. I support the motion.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 5:00 pm, 7th June 2021

Nature-friendly farming demonstrates a way of farming that is helpful to wildlife, the environment and the climate while still producing top-quality produce. That farming includes organic and conventional farming methods working together to highlight the fact that farming and nature can be sustainable together, ensuring that the countryside is both productive and bursting with wildlife.

Nature-friendly farming aims to promote the best practices and to demonstrate what can be accomplished for nature and the environment while producing the greatest and best produce. Those who practise nature-friendly farming strongly believe that agriculture needs to be not only profitable but sustainable, with farmers receiving adequate payments and support for undertaking environmental and nature-friendly activities. Those farmers are committed to demonstrating to the public the value of their product and the need for government to ensure that there is support for a number of interventions, including incentives such as well-funded environmental land management schemes and environmental productivity grants.

Fields and grass are the main assets on most farms in Northern Ireland and the growing of grass for food and fodder has to be maximised for the greatest financial return. With nature-friendly farming, there is encouragement to leave a margin to encourage good hedgerow, so wildlife and biodiversity habitats start to become more important. As hedge growth is encouraged, a programme of hedge management starts to emerge with the cutting of hedges in rotation only every three or four years for the benefit of our wildlife. Meanwhile, the berries and fruit that grow are a vital supply of food for the birds and animals, thus encouraging more birds and animals into the countryside. Hopefully, Mr McGlone will see the return of some of the birds that, he said, were missing from the countryside.

In Northern Ireland, we have a number of focused, nature-friendly farmers who have diverse agriculture specialisms and produce a variety of produce, which is not all edible but is all nature-friendly. Those range from keeping a suckler cow herd to arable farming to the rearing of goats, the production of beef and sheep and the growing of Christmas trees. While the Ulster Unionist Party will support the motion and the amendment, it must not be forgotten that all farmers shape our landscape by creating the environments that support our economy, rural communities, tourism and recreation. Those farmers manage 78% of the land in Northern Ireland. All farmers have an inherent interest in maintaining their land and protecting the environment to ensure long-term productivity on their farm and enable the natural assets to be passed to the succeeding generation in a better condition. In supporting nature-friendly farming, a balance must be established between climate, biodiversity, food production and rural development. With the ever-increasing demand for food worldwide, its production must be balanced with nature, creating environmental sustainability. The use of more efficient methods of managing carbon emissions must be taken into account, as must the importance of fair prices being paid to ensure that farms are economically sustainable.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I rise to support the motion, but we will not support the amendment. I thank the Members involved in bringing the motion to the House.

We face a huge task. The challenge of the climate emergency will require us all to change our lives to secure and improve our living standards and those of the generations that will follow. That is why it is important that we balance sustainability with productivity. Our farmers continue to play an essential role in environmental recovery and in protecting our wildlife and biodiversity. We all accept that, ultimately, farming needs to be sustainable and that land becoming unproductive due to a lack of sustainable practices benefits no one. As our nature-friendly farming lobby puts it, "Nature is good for business", so we need to ensure that we are not depleting our natural environment but protecting, building and enhancing it and recovering much of what we have destroyed.

Agriculture is a key industry in Northern Ireland. We produce some of the best and highest-quality agri-food products in the world. In meeting that standard, we must make sure that the processes that we use are nature-friendly. It is vital that the Assembly and Executive make the future of agriculture policy central to the issues going forward. Farming is under threat. It is under threat from our own Government, who are trying to impose on us world trade deals that will have serious and detrimental effects on farming in Northern Ireland, because most of our farms are comparatively small and family-run. We need to maintain and support that and fend off the onslaught from the large factory farms. It is an asset that, with the right support, small farms may be better suited to changing practices quickly and leading the way in nature-friendly farming practices. We need to provide the right support and advice to our farmers to do that, rewarding them for taking measures to rewild and to improve the management of land.

In April, the Alliance Party produced our green new deal, which outlines our policies for moving forward towards a zero-carbon future in a just and sustainable manner. We proposed a number of actions to move us towards sustainability and nature-friendly farming. For example, we want to expand the environmental farming scheme to promote habitat restoration and the planting of trees and hedgerows, as well as protecting current woodland and peat bogs. As I have said before, we produce exceptionally high-quality food in Northern Ireland, so there is an opportunity to develop agriculture, food and tourism, a subject that was talked about in the House earlier today. We want to see concrete support and funding guidance from DAERA and the Department for the Economy to promote and expand the sector, particularly as tourism seeks to recover from the impact of COVID-19. We want to see an increase in the promotion of local sustainable produce, invest in food markets and farm shops and reduce food miles, producing greater connection between our producers and our consumers.

I note my concerns, however, about the impact of Brexit on farming. I have already said that, last week, in response to a question for written answer, the Minister commented:

"leaving the EU will have created some uncertainty regarding agricultural funding."

That is quite an understatement, Minister. If we do not have replacement funds for EU funding nor control over the spending of those funds, many of our aspirations for nature-friendly farming cannot and will not be realised. I would appreciate it if the Minister could provide an outline of where exactly the funding will come from and where we are with that and what engagement he has had with the United Kingdom Government.

Leaving the EU and the potential for quota-free trade deals across the world present real and present risks to farming in Northern Ireland. Judging by his public comments, I know that the Minister agrees that other nations' farming systems are far more industrialised and intensive. If such trade deals are to be signed, we need to ensure that we provide the right level of support for our farmers so that we can compete and maintain our high standards. Farmers need leadership and direction. The Agriculture Minister has spoken of his support for providing future opportunities for nature-friendly farming, but we still wait to hear the practical, on-the-ground details.

The DAERA briefing to the Committee notes that we have an opportunity to redefine our agriculture policy for the first time in over 50 years and that we can build sustainability from the outset. We need much more development of that policy from the Department. Right now, it feels as if there is a vacuum that the common agricultural policy used to fill. There are real opportunities out there, and we should not be negative about the consequences of doing nothing.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity to redefine its agriculture policy for the first time in almost 50 years. It is an opportunity to develop a framework that is better suited to local needs and long-term sustainability in the industry. I note that Minister Poots's vision for future agriculture in Northern Ireland was centred around four outcomes:

"An industry that pursues increased productivity as a means to sustained profitability An industry that displays improved resilience to external shocks, which are becoming ever more frequent and to which the industry has become very exposed An industry that is environmentally sustainable in terms of its impact on, and its guardianship of, air quality, water quality, soil health, carbon footprint and biodiversity An industry which operates within an efficient, sustainable, and responsive supply chain."

The Assembly should endeavour to help the agri-food sector to be the best that it can be across those four areas. Nature-friendly farming is central to that. Farmers are pivotal to delivering on environmental outcomes. The DUP has always supported policies that deliver a profitable, sustainable and productive agri-food sector. The Minister has delivered a wide range of programmes such as reforestation, small woodland grants and farm business investment schemes, while recognising the positive role that farmers play in sustaining and improving our environment: carbon sequestration, habitat creation, biodiversity etc. The Minister is also bringing forward a climate change Bill that is based on independent scientific advice and evidence and will set achievable but challenging targets that will require significant financial support.

We need a just transition for our farmers in delivering environmental change: not just transition, but a just transition.

While the motion is focused on farming, farming is only part of the solution. Business, transport, government and society have a vital role to play. Urban areas are also key. We could all be doing a lot more to protect biodiversity and wildlife. The farming industry is also exposed to trade deals and imports, with no guarantee of a level playing field. We expect our farmers to go above and beyond and yet compete with imports of a lower environmental standard and lower cost. I reference Brazil and the decimation of the rainforest as one destructive influence.

Consumers will continue to want the product. If we in Northern Ireland reduce production, we may run the risk of land abandonment, where farms are no longer profitable. That would be a loss of land that needs to be managed and protected to enhance the environment and wildlife.

I take a point from Mr McGlone's contribution. As a young boy growing up, I listened, every evening and afternoon, to the sound of the corncrake, cuckoo and grasshopper. These are sounds you do not hear any more. That needs to be addressed. Nature-friendly farming will help wildlife of all sorts. I support the motion.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin 5:15 pm, 7th June 2021

I rise in support of the motion as written and, at the outset, I declare an interest as one who was raised in a farming family in the Sperrins. My background, growing up in a rural community, gives me a keen understanding of the challenges that face farmers, as well as the vital role that they play in society. I understand the economic value that our farmers bring, not just as local producers but as a driver for other industry, such as contractors, machinery dealers, vets and pharmaceutical agents.

Our farmers are the custodians of the countryside and, as such, whilst working the land to make a living, they are also in the front line in the fight against climate change. It is somewhat ironic that farmers are tasked with responsibility when it comes to tackling the climate emergency, given that their livelihoods are probably the most affected by weather and that they are at the mercy of it. I say that as somebody who grew up watching the forecast religiously every evening when there was silage to be cut or hay to be saved, hoping for a spell of dry weather.

It is no surprise that, as a representative of Mid Ulster, 30% of which is considered to be severely disadvantaged, I have a particular interest in the naturally climate-friendly farming that we see in mountain areas. I wish to see the people that are engaged in hill farming supported in doing so. As such, the reintroduction of the areas of natural constraint (ANC) payment would go a long way to make small-scale sustainable farming a viable and realistic option for local people, who cannot make a livelihood without government support, forcing them to look at less climate-friendly methods.

When you walk through the Sperrins, as I have done, you see the natural ecosystem aided and enhanced by the presence of livestock. The sheep and cattle that graze our mountains in small numbers make up a part, not just of our human food chain, but of the precariously balanced wildlife contributing to the growth of heather and other foliage that other, smaller animals rely on. Agriculture might be a small part of the problem in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also a part of the solution. That is an important point to make for a multitude of reasons, not least that we produce food for almost 10 million people and we have a tremendous place, on the island of Ireland, for doing so.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all witnessed the vulnerability of the short, just-in-time supply chain and the absolute importance of having our local producers. This is particularly true of the primary producers, who are essential for the production for local markets. Oftentimes, they farm with a low intensity, with small numbers of livestock over a lot of land and, therefore, big opportunities for carbon sequestration. People saw during the pandemic that high-quality food continued to be on their table, and the health benefits of eating locally produced meat and vegetables cannot be overstated. There are important lessons that we, as Members of the legislative Assembly, must learn from the pandemic, such as the dangers of our over-reliance on imports. Without our primary producers — our agriculture industry — we will not be in a position to just turn the tap back on if needed. If we ever experience another global crisis, of whatever description, proper, long-term, targeted support for our farmers is needed to help them meet climate change targets.

Whilst the aim of the agriculture industry should be to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture should not be scaled back to lower greenhouse emissions, as this would lead to imports of food from other countries where farming systems have higher carbon footprints. We need to be careful that we do not inhibit production and offload the problem somewhere else.

The reality of climate change means that every sector — indeed, every individual — in this country will have to change certain habits and practices. However, if we base those changes on just-transition principles, we can ensure that nobody is left behind and that we all benefit from the opportunities that a carbon-neutral society can deliver.

I am very pleased and relieved to see the change in the Minister's attitude over the past number of months towards the need for climate action, and I trust that he will now begin to put action to his comments and work with industries and other parties to ensure that our farmers are supported in making environmental improvements while protecting their livelihoods and the generations of tradition. We will support the motion but not the amendment.

Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I support the motion. Farming in Northern Ireland could be about to change significantly for the worse. The threat comes from the likely free trade deals with Australia and, subsequently, New Zealand and future trade deals with the United States.

Northern Ireland's farming and food production sectors have been placed in needless peril. The guilty parties are the Brexit Leave campaign and, I am afraid, the DUP. We knew that part of the objective of Brexit was to leave the common agricultural policy, to lose farmers' direct support payments and to buy cheap food on the world market. Those in the Leave campaign choose to pretend that this was not the reality, but that reality has come home to roost. It has now become very obvious to everyone.

Farmers in Northern Ireland face a major reduction in much of their GB market. That market is incredibly important for Northern Ireland farmers because almost 60% of their production heads to GB. In future, Northern Ireland farmers will, it seems, be competing against Australian producers, who have the advantages of much larger farms and enormous economies of scale. Meanwhile, the risk is that environmentally friendly farming practices that support animal and consumer welfare will be undermined in the future by imported products, including hormone-treated beef, pig meat contaminated by high levels of antibiotics, and chlorinated chicken.

The Ulster Farmers' Union is one of the many organisations that is very worried about the impact of the British Government's negotiations with Australia and the United States. It says that the British Government must ensure that UK farmers are able to continue to produce food to world-leading standards, which they are proud to uphold, while allowing them to compete fairly both at home and abroad. An even stronger warning has been issued by the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association. In evidence that it gave recently to the House of Commons Committee, it said that Brexit — the hard version that has been implemented by the British Government — has the potential to decimate the farming industry, which plays a major part in the Northern Ireland economy.

The challenges facing our farming industry go beyond Brexit. Let us remember that we rely on agriculture to be a core part of our move towards a net zero carbon and environmentally sustainable economy. More imports brought from across the world do nothing to achieve that objective. This is the moment to promote what we have. Our farms are much more environmentally sustainable than those of many of our international competitors. Let us ask consumers to support and sustain that production by, where possible, buying local produce that is environmentally friendly and organic.

Over the last decade, we have seen serious harm inflicted on the farming sector in Northern Ireland. Farm incomes have fallen substantially. We need food processors and big supermarkets to recognise the market strength that they have and not exploit it. They need to pay fair prices that allow farmers a reasonable market. Too often, farm produce is bought at prices below the cost of production. As a result, many farmers have been forced to leave the sector, while others make very low incomes.

This is about the welfare of our farms and our farmers. It is also about the appearance of our countryside. It is about the welfare of our animals and treating them with care and avoiding causing them pain. It is also about the welfare of our consumers by recognising the role of fresh and nutritious produce in the health and physical well-being of our population, whose best interests we are here to represent. I urge the Assembly to support nature-friendly farming and not just to support the farmers but all our constituents.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I am pleased to support the motion at what is a pivotal time of opportunity and change for farming in Northern Ireland. It is also a time of crisis for our natural and ecological systems. Agriculture and related land use are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland. We know that those sources make up 27% of total emissions, but that figure is predicted to rise to 33% by 2030. Outside emissions, the impact of intensive agriculture on our natural systems is startling. Ninety-five per cent of our lakes fail water framework directive standards, many of our priority habitats are in an unfavourable condition and, out of 240 countries, Northern Ireland ranks twelfth worst in the world for biodiversity.

Of course, farmers have a unique and vital role to play in tackling climate and ecological emergencies. Farming can deliver improved water and soil quality, biodiversity and flood mitigation. It can also help to restore nature while supporting a more productive and resilient food system. As we set the direction of agricultural policy for the future, we have an opportunity to reshape how we deliver for the environment while supporting, diversifying and improving farm incomes. Furthermore, any future agricultural policy must be underpinned by bespoke, Northern Ireland agricultural legislation in order to provide a legal framework and a mandated timeline for the introduction of a model of public money for public goods for agricultural payments. Future agricultural policy must mainstream nature-friendly farming by supporting those farmers who already do good work and by helping others to transition to more nature-friendly methods. Any scheme must be practical and accessible, making it easy for farmers to be financially rewarded for delivering environmental outcomes.

Environmental indicators must extend beyond greenhouse gas emissions to look at, amongst other things, soil and water quality and biodiversity. The Climate Change Bill, which is going through the House, includes measures for those things, and subsequent agricultural policy should reflect them. Farmers must also be paid more at a market level for producing a quality product that is farmed with high levels of animal welfare on land that is managed in a nature-friendly way. The European green deal is set to create a system of footprint labelling on food, giving consumers information on details such as where food comes from and its nutritional value, sustainability and environmental footprint. There is no reason why we cannot have something similar in Northern Ireland.

I want to touch briefly on the need for a food strategy in Northern Ireland. A report released last Thursday showed that low-income families in Northern Ireland need to spend almost half their weekly income if they are to afford healthy food. Households on a low income struggle to make a limited budget go further and tend to eat less well, which leads to health inequalities, including higher levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Northern Ireland has a rich heritage of food production, an economy heavily reliant on food and agriculture and such pride in the quality and traceability of our food, yet so many of our population do not have access to locally produced, healthy food, and many of our farming families live below the poverty line. Our focus must shift from the intensive export-focused, production-focused and volume-focused agricultural model to thinking about how we can best deliver healthy, affordable food to Northern Ireland, improve farm incomes and resilience and address the nature and climate emergencies.

I will not support the amendment. It implies that the agricultural transition to nature-friendly farming is already under way. Moreover, I cannot support any amendment that supports increasing agri-food productivity in Northern Ireland. We have already intensified way beyond what our natural systems can cope with, and we are seeing widespread ecological collapse now as a result.

Increased productivity will not address any of the problems that we have spoken about today: climate breakdown; ecological destruction; declining water quality; widespread habitat destruction; rural, urban and farming poverty; and a lack of access to locally produced, healthy food. I support the motion.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 5:30 pm, 7th June 2021

I call Mr Edwin Poots, the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The Minister has 10 minutes.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

As I made my way to the Chamber, I passed the statue of Lord Craigavon. I thought about how it is a wonderful privilege to be here debating this issue, as a leader in unionism, 100 years after the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Parliament and how it is a great opportunity to carry on the tradition of unionism, even after those 100 years have passed.

I welcome the debate, as it provides me with the opportunity to assure the House that I am committed to ensuring that, moving forward, we have an agriculture policy that enables the transition to profitable, sustainable farming, continues to provide nutritious food, increases farm business resilience and delivers the environmental outcomes to which we all aspire. I do not recognise the agriculture in Northern Ireland that Ms Bailey has just talked about. The annual farm-gate value of our industry is over £2 billion. It produces enough to meet the dietary protein requirements of 10 million people. We want to feed the world; Ms Bailey wants to starve the world.

When you add that significant food processing sector to the fact that the majority of what we produce and process is sold outside Northern Ireland, you begin to appreciate how important our agri-food industry is not only to our economy but to our customers in Great Britain and elsewhere. The importance of the agri-food sector has been highlighted throughout the COVID pandemic, which reinforced the importance of resilient supply chains and the tremendous work that our farmers, in particular, do.

As many outlined during the debate, the sector is no less important to the health of our local environment, our air quality, water quality, biodiversity, soil health and landscape, all of which are heavily influenced by agriculture. We have to accept that that influence is not always positive, but the important point is that it can be positive going forward, and we will address our environmental challenges only if agriculture and farmers are part of the solution.

The UK Government are committed to the whole of the UK achieving net zero carbon by 2050, and we are debating Northern Ireland's fair contribution to achieving that goal. Whatever that target is, it will mean a radical change for our economy towards a more economically and environmentally sustainable model that is based on innovation, the recognition of the true value of the environment and the development of our people so that they can drive that new economy.

My Department has been incentivising and will continue to incentivise environmental sustainability. My Department currently offers a range of support measures aimed at delivering nature-friendly farming. The environmental farming scheme (EFS) aims to protect and enhance biodiversity and water quality, mitigate climate change and sequester carbon. After four annual intake tranches, 5,000 farmers are participating in the scheme across around 55,000 hectares of land. In addition, group projects fund external facilitators to provide farmers with additional advisory support. Currently, more than 500 farmers are supported in five EFS group projects targeting environmentally designated land, water quality, priority habitat and species in specific areas.

I firmly believe that education is critical to improving the future performance, sustainability and resilience of the agri-food industry. The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) continues to deliver knowledge transfer, innovation and technology transfer programmes. In the DAERA estate itself, CAFRE is an exemplar of the promotion and demonstration of sustainable productivity and resilience. CAFRE's estate's primary measure of sustainability is through its linking environment and farming (LEAF) marque accreditation. CAFRE is independently verified as having achieved LEAF accreditation since 2006, and the LEAF principle of integrated farm management is a whole-farm approach to sustainable farming that enriches the environment and engages the local community. It reaches into all aspects of farming and includes the areas of soil health and fertility, crop health and protection, pollution control, resource use and efficiency, animal husbandry, energy efficiency, water management and nature conservation, as well as community engagement. Each of the farm centres at CAFRE demonstrates the broad spectrum of environmental technologies, with the dairy centre showing the industry nutrient management practice to minimise the loss of nutrients to water and air.

That includes a constructed wetland scheme and artificial wetland, which acts in a similar manner to the biofiltration action of natural wetlands, and all mitigating measures to minimise the impact of ammonia on nearby habitats are demonstrated in its buildings and the management of its animal manures.

The hill farm centre is focused on biodiversity, where the upland habitat is managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services in tandem with sustainable livestock reduction, grazing management of appropriate suckler and sheep enterprises, and predator control programmes are used to demonstrate positive habitat management and have led to significant improvements for blanket bog vegetation, hen harriers, red grouse, breeding waders and the Irish hare. Blanket bog is being managed and monitored for reservoir quality services and flood alleviation through partnership projects, and re-wetting programmes have now started.

As I have said many times in the House, Northern Ireland now has a unique opportunity to redefine its agricultural policy for the first time in 50 years and to develop a framework that is better suited to local needs and will underpin long-term sustainability in the industry. Any future agriculture regime must promote productive, efficient practices through greater innovation and capacity. As we move forward, we must join up our environmental ambitions with farm economic activity. We need to invest time, money and effort in recreating and redefining our support schemes and tools. I also recognise the key role that the food supply chain's primary agricultural production and food waste will have to play in reducing carbon emissions. The prevention and reduction of food waste across the food supply chain is a key area of focus for DAERA as we move towards achieving ambitious targets for carbon reduction and recycling. Resource efficiency must be a key objective in driving better economic and environmental outputs. Input use should be minimised, recycling maximised and waste streams dealt with sustainably. Innovation and technological advances must be part of the solution. Legislation and regulation must keep pace with technological advances. At times, outdated or narrowly defined regulatory frameworks hinder the adoption of new thinking and innovation that can deliver efficiency and environmental gains.

I will make a few specific comments on future farming policy. In the past, EU CAP payments have been vital to sustaining the industry in Northern Ireland and underpinning its competitive trading position. That support must continue now that we have left the European Union. The expectations that are being placed on farmers are increasing, and we must ensure that the public goods that are provided are adequately financed. We all agree that we need to do more. However, to achieve that, we must recognise the need for additional funding in line with the delivery of additional outcomes. Previously, I have shared with the House my vision for the future of agriculture. We want to help the farm sector to be the best across four areas and to be an industry that pursues increased productivity; is environmentally sustainable; displays improved resilience; and operates in a fully functional supply chain. Nature-friendly farming is central to that. Future policy must allow farmers to have the best possible tools at their disposal to deliver on environmental outcomes.

The ability to develop our own local policies opens the way to create a new dynamic for key stakeholders across the food, agriculture and environmental spectrum and to work with the Northern Ireland Government to chart a new way forward with common purpose. As we go forward, I want to devise support schemes that provide opportunities for all Northern Ireland's farmers. Schemes and support are needed to help farmers to develop their businesses no matter what they farm, become more efficient and maximise the sustainable returns that they achieve from the assets at their disposal. Those assets include the environmental assets on the farm. I believe that farms, especially those on hills and in other disadvantaged areas, are well placed to play a major role in delivering more of the environmental outcomes that people who live in Northern Ireland want and that we owe to future generations. Farmers should be properly rewarded for delivering those environmental outcomes.

We will work with farmers, land managers and environmental stakeholders to co-design a new approach to agrienvironment measures that is focused on delivering outcomes and a lasting legacy. We have the opportunity to create a new approach where management of the environment becomes a profit centre in the farm business rather than a cost centre. That offers a way forward where better economic and environmental performance are the two inseparable goals of any farm business. Farmers should be able to compete with imports on a level playing field when it comes to environmental, animal welfare or, indeed, labour standards. It is absolutely critical that any future trade deal reflects those important issues.

As we look to the shape of the future support regime, I see a role for a simplified area-based support safety net that is set a level that does not blunt innovation or productivity. It should embrace some of the recommendations of the sustainable land management strategy. I see a role for coupled support, targeting, in particular, suckler cow and breeding ewe producers. We need to explore how coupled support can be designed to better drive economic and environmental performance. I am also keen to examine how genetics and a livestock data programme can be embedded in that to improve the economic and environmental performance of our grazing livestock.

We need to expand investment and knowledge tools to support better nutrient management and reductions in carbon, ammonia and nitrates emissions. We need to explore the possibilities of encouraging the farming of carbon through a range of measures, including land management techniques and increased woodland planting.

There is also a need for continuing professional development, which is absolutely vital in farming as we move forward. It is also important to say that I see a better role for succession planning.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.

In conclusion, business as usual for many farmers will not be an option. The future is about deliverable food and environmental outcomes.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I call Mr Harry Harvey to wind on the amendment.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

I support the amendment standing in my name and that of colleagues. Today's debate has been useful and has given Members an opportunity to have a discussion on the vision for agriculture in the years ahead. We have considered where we want to go with a greener, more sustainable and more productive sector for the future. As has already been outlined, we as a party have always supported policies that deliver a profitable and productive agri-food sector that is also sustainable.

I will now address a few of the comments made. Mr Declan McAleer said that our farming is world class and that all farmers can play their part, whether big or small. Mr William Irwin said that there is a need for a balanced approach that has to be achievable. He also had concerns about external forces. Mr Patsy McGlone said that the vast majority want to play their part and that farm businesses can remain profitable and productive. He said that that is most important.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank Mr Harvey for giving way. On one of the key elements of the amendment, which Mr Irwin commented on, and to which you have also referred, can you clarify for me how the balance between increased agri-food farming activity and reducing the environmental impact of agri-food and farming activity can be achieved? Can we get some clarity on the amendment?

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

I take your comments on board, Mr McGlone. The Member also mentioned areas where birds no longer sing. That was an interesting one, and we look forward to hearing them singing again. Mrs Barton mentioned being helpful to wildlife, incorporating best practices and the importance of hedgerows. She also mentioned the rearing of goats and Christmas trees, which is very good.

Mr Dickson was not happy with the amendment and had concerns for farming as a result of Brexit. Mr Maurice Bradley talked about redefining the agriculture policy. He mentioned air, water and soil quality and said that he wanted things to be the best that they can be. He also said that there are some great schemes available.

Ms Emma Sheerin said that she was reared on a farm in the Sperrins and that we are custodians of the countryside. She mentioned naturally climate-friendly farming and our need to support our farmers' production. She also talked about how good food was produced during the pandemic.

Ms Sinead McLaughlin spoke about her concerns for trade deals with Australia and America and said that she has concerns over imports. Ms Clare Bailey said that it is time for change for farmers here and that she has concerns about high emissions. She talked about the vital role that farmers can play, biodiversity and improving farm incomes. She also mentioned food labelling and the need for a strategy for it, and she voiced her concern for low-income families.

Minister Poots welcomed the debate and mentioned the 100 years of a Parliament here. In a short time, the Minister has delivered a wide range of programmes, such as Forests for Our Future and the small woodland grant scheme, as well as the work carried out on the farm business investment scheme and initiatives to protect pollinators. Many of the schemes already support our farmers in moving towards low-emission, nature-friendly processes and procedures. That is the model of collaborative working that we must progress in order to encourage and support the sector to develop further.

On nature-friendly farming, I agree with other Members that we must first acknowledge the work that those within the sector have been doing for decades. Those within the farming community and agri-food sector have a love for nature and our environment. It is their bread and butter. Healthy farmlands produce healthy farm businesses, as our farmers have known for generations. As such, it is important that we recognise the positive role that our farmers have played, and continue to play, in sustaining and improving our environment through habitat creation, waterways maintenance and carbon reduction. In recent years, the sector has engaged well with departmental schemes aimed at improving our natural environment. I know that that will continue as the Department seeks to ensure that future policy works to create an industry that is both environmentally and financially sustainable.

The Ulster Farmers' Union recently made the point that focusing on one of the sustainability pillars without considering the others will result in imbalance and lead to difficulties. I firmly believe that we can move towards greater environmental sustainability whilst achieving greater economic sustainability for the sector.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 5:45 pm, 7th June 2021

The Member's time is up, I am afraid.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I call Mr John Blair, who will have 10 minutes.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I start by thanking Members for their contributions. I will reflect briefly on those contributions, but I also want to strive to dedicate sufficient time to the intent of the motion.

The Committee Chair, Declan McAleer, in opening the debate, reminded us of the importance of the agri-food sector to Northern Ireland. It is one of our greatest assets, sustaining approximately 100,000 jobs and adding £1·5 billion to the Northern Ireland economy as well as, of course, providing high-quality food.

William Irwin, in moving the amendment, referenced previous comments by the Minister about working towards more resilience. He also spoke of the Climate Change Bill. Patsy McGlone talked of farmers willingly playing their part in tackling the climate emergency, and said that many of them are also great advocates for nature-friendly farming.

Rosemary Barton mentioned the strength of nature-friendly farming and her belief that agriculture has to be sustainable as well as profitable. She helpfully mentioned birds and biodiversity, and related those to tourism and recreation. Maurice Bradley made a telling comment that farmers are pivotal to delivering on environmental outcomes. I am sure that Members across the House would agree with that. Emma Sheerin talked about biodiversity in the Sperrins, and its link to farming life there. Clare Bailey, in supporting the motion but opposing the amendment, said that this is a time of opportunity and change but also of challenges. She referenced the Climate Change Bill that is already before the House.

I turn now to speak as the Alliance Party agriculture, environment and rural affairs spokesperson. I feel compelled to remind Members that nearly 30% of Northern Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, compared with 10% in the rest of the UK. That reflects the importance of agriculture to our economy as well as the demand for quality food.

With around 25,000 farms in Northern Ireland, most of which are small and family run, the Alliance Party is committed to supporting our farmers in embracing environmentally beneficial farming practices, reducing their carbon footprint and better using and protecting natural resources and biodiversity. That commitment was outlined recently in my party's policy document 'Green New Deal', which my colleague Stewart Dickson mentioned. The document describes the essential role that farmers play in driving nature's recovery. I have, with colleagues, met the Ulster Farmers' Union on the matter, so I am acutely aware of the huge efforts already being made by farmers to tackle environmental challenges.

Agriculture was, as we said, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Northern Ireland in 2018, at 27%. That share, and these are the important figures, is expected to increase to 35% by 2030 as a result of the improved performances of other sectors, and with a 3% reduction in agricultural emissions. So, setting the context and setting the proportion here is very important.

Agriculture Committee colleagues also mentioned that the Committee has worked with the Nature Friendly Farming Network on a motion to protect our natural environment — we have it here today — and to tackle the climate emergency, while providing a profitable future for the sector. Future agricultural policies, which is an issue that I raised at Question Time recently, must enable a transition, whilst providing nutritious food and increased farm resilience. Farmers who contribute to sequestration and take invaluable actions in the battle against climate change must, therefore, be assisted. We need new and better ways of rewarding them for their efforts as they continue to make progress. I note that the Minister responded very positively and talked about making bids in that regard when I asked that question previously.

The central plank of our future policy must include environmental land management and sustainable farming incentives to pay farmers for actions that they take to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way. That could include schemes to encourage catchment-sensitive farming, integrated pest management and sensitive hedgerow management. Local nature recovery will pay farmers for actions that support that recovery, creating space for natural habitats on farms and encouraging cooperation between farmers. The landscape recovery component will support the delivery of landscape-scale projects to deliver ecosystem recovery for longer-term land use change. That will help us to meet our targets to plant 30,000 hectares of woodland by 2025, to create and restore peatland, to protect 30% of UK land by 2030 and to reach the net zero targets that we aspire to.

Nature-friendly farming is not only better for nature but ensures that our land remains productive so that we can go on producing food forever. Nature is good for business and is essential for our future. There is increasing recognition that environmental production practices are essential for robust supply chains; in short, to ensure that we have good food on the table. There is a massive opportunity to roll out nature-friendly farming at scale as part of a future domestic agricultural policy. That will help to deliver a range of important public policy objectives at the same time as providing resilient, sustainable and productive farm businesses.

I repeat that the Alliance Party remains absolutely committed to nature-friendly farming and will be a champion for schemes that, through a new environmental land management system, will reward farmers for their efforts. We will support the original motion, and we will not support the amendment, because it focuses on productivity over the environment, it credits departmental work that has not, as yet, reached the stage that some of us would like it to be at, and, quite bizarrely, those who tabled the amendment have not sought, at various stages, in Committee meetings and discussions to highlight the need for such amendments.

In closing, I want to issue a reminder that climate change does not recognise boundaries, nor does it differentiate between communities. Now is the time for us, together, to set new measures and take big steps. I commend the motion to the House, and I oppose the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I think that we will have to have a Division. The Question will be put again in three minutes. I remind Members to continue to uphold the social-distancing rules and that Members who have proxy voting arrangements in place should not come to the Chamber. Clear the Lobbies.

Before I put the Question, I remind those Members present that, if possible, it would be preferable if we could avoid a Division.

Question put a second time.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place. I ask you to ensure that you maintain a gap of at least 2 metres between yourself and other people when moving around the Chamber or the Rotunda and particularly in the Lobbies. Please be patient at all times, observe the signage and follow the instructions of the Lobby Clerks. Clear the Lobbies.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 36; Noes 48


Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr M Bradley, Mr Harvey


Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Ms Sugden

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Brogan, Mr Dickson

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly recognises the vital role that nature-friendly farming must play in tackling the nature and climate emergencies, at the same time as providing a profitable future for the sector; believes that future agricultural policies for Northern Ireland must enable a transition to profitable, sustainable, nature-friendly farming, in order to provide nutritious food, increase farm business resilience and combat the nature and climate emergencies; and welcomes the comments by the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that future agricultural policy should ensure an industry that is environmentally sustainable and that displays improved resilience to external shocks.