50 NI livestock farms to form new sustainable network

The new network will include a range of dairy, beef and sheep systems
The new network will include a range of dairy, beef and sheep systems

Up to 50 farms across Northern Ireland will gather evidence for research into sustainable livestock farming as part of a new farmer-funded network.

Research organisation AgriSearch announced the plans as it warned farming must develop ways to 'prove its sustainability credentials to an increasingly sceptical public'.

It is seeking to develop a network of up to 50 'Beacon' farms across the region, benchmarking carbon sequestration on-farm.

The network will also quantify the benefit of ecosystem services delivered by farmers, and encourage the development of 'resilient and sustainable farm systems'.

AgriSearch, a farmer-funded group, said the key challenge facing livestock farmers was producing 'high quality, affordable food while maximising environmental gains'.

The government target for Northern Ireland is to be carbon neutral by 2045, which presented a 'challenge for all parts of industry and society as a whole'.

"Farmers want to play their part in delivering these targets," AgriSearch Chairman, Seamus McCaffrey said.

"For too long, agriculture has been presented as part of the problem, but we want to demonstrate through innovative practices and research how farming can be a big part of the solution."

"A common finding throughout our conversations was the need to become more focused on farm-level response to economic, environmental and social challenges."

The new network of Beacon farms – beef, dairy and sheep - will 'lead the way' in developing 'cutting edge, innovative farm systems', he said.

The farm network will measure and benchmark levels of carbon sequestration on livestock farms and quantify the benefits of ecosystem services delivered by farmers.

Another key element will be to pursue partnership opportunities with industry, policymakers and academia that will deliver additional value for research projects and ultimately the primary producer.

Mr McCaffrey said: “We want to demonstrate both to farmers and the wider community how farming systems can fit together to deliver for people and the planet, as well as for their individual farm businesses.

"I would encourage farmers to get involved in this exciting project which helps future proof the industry in NI by promoting and developing farm systems that are both financially and environmentally sustainable.”