FERMANAGH farmers who are already a shining example of how to work alongside and protect the environment are now being unfairly penalised by government attempts to reach ‘net zero.’
That’s the feeling among the thousands of small local farmers in the county, regarding DAERA’s draft ammonia strategy, according to Cllr John Coyle, who is himself a small farmer.
A public consultation on the new strategy, which is aimed at drastically reducing ammonia emissions across the North, ended last month, and the Department is now considering its responses.
There were many responses from Fermanagh, with farmers here particularly concerned about the tight restrictions on slurry spreading in environmentally sensitive areas, and the expensive new emission-reducing equipment they will be required to use.
As already reported by the Herald, there are genuine fears thousands of local farmers could be pushed out of business if the draft strategy is adopted.
Cllr Coyle said he too was concerned, as the plan would force most small farmers to rely on contractors, which they could not afford in an economic environment in which there is currently no end in sight to soaring interest rates and skyrocketing input costs.
He explained that if our small local farmers were lost, it would actually be more harmful than beneficial to the environment.
“Greta Thunberg and all these environmentalists are saying this is wrong and that’s wrong, you shouldn’t be doing this and everything else,” said Cllr Coyle. “But we have been working together. We are the custodians of the environment. We protect our wildlife.”
On his own farm in Belleek, Cllr Coyle said there was a thriving population of wildlife, from badgers to butterflies, and rare or endangered birds. Indeed, there is even a pair of breeding white tailed eagles which call the farm home.
“They talk about how farming is damaging wildlife, but farmers don’t go out to decimate habitats,” he said, noting farmers in Fermanagh worked together to do the opposite.
However, he called for more support for their efforts from DAERA, who he said no longer compensated farmers for keeping hedgerows, which are known to be highly important habitats.
“The Department of Agriculture needs to be more environmentally friendly,” he said, adding there should be cross-border statutory cooperation on the issue, as “the environment doesn’t recognise the border.”
Cllr Coyle also pointed out how eating local food was the best way to protect the environment, rather than eating imported produce such as water-intensive avocados from across the Atlantic.
“We have traceability from farm to fork here,” he said. “You know what the animals have been fed, you know they have been reared sustainably, and we’re doing our best to produce top quality food.”
He added, “You can’t say you’re environmentally friendly just because you eat fruit and vegetables.”
Overall, Cllr Coyle said local farmers felt they were “being unfairly targeted in our way of producing food for our people” and while he said farmers here were very keen to help come up with environmental solutions, “these solutions must be sustainable.”
“We have over 5,000 farming families in Fermanagh and Omagh that need to be protected,” he said. “We are not industrial, we have been custodians of the land for many, many, many generations.”
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