Northern Ireland

Need to 'build trust' in NI agriculture

cows in a field
Image caption One dairy farmer said he had to double the size of his herd to sustain his standard of living

Farmers, environmentalists, supermarkets and government need to build trust around the future of food production, according to a new report.

It said there were "disconnects" around how food is produced, the cost of food and the health of the environment.

The report followed 12 workshops in Northern Ireland at which 140 people gave their views.

It recommended changes to ensure farmers receive a fairer price for high-quality food.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA), which produced the report, is a charity that encourages people to resolve the challenges of our time.

Challenges

It also called for better relationships between producers and consumers.

The report also stated that farming needed to be carried out in a way that is better for nature, and for young people to be taught to appreciate the relationship between farming, food, environment and health.

Farmers told researchers they felt under pressure to be ever more efficient, but believed they were not getting a fair price for their food.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The survey heard people were interested in quality food but tended to buy based on price

One County Tyrone dairy farmer said he was previously able to make a living from milking 50 cows, but had to double his herd to sustain his standard of living.

Other contributors talked about a disconnect between public subsidies and how they do not necessarily result in benefits to the public, with a greater emphasis needed on money being paid for environmental work.

The report also said people were angry about farming's role in habitat destruction.

While some farmers resented regulation, others regretted that commercial pressures drove them to maximise returns - so-called "farming to the fence", which left little room for nature.

Green spaces

The survey heard people were enthusiastic about high-quality local produce but that shoppers tended to buy food on the basis of price.

While nature was found to play an important role in contributing to mental health, there was a perceived lack of access to green spaces, with no public footpath network and limited rights of way.

The Northern Ireland commission of inquiry that produced the work, which falls under the auspices of the RSA, included representatives from farming, business, the environmental sector, food security and public health.

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