New NI study shows nature-friendly farming potential

New NI study shows nature-friendly farming potential

Seventeen Northern Ireland farms have taken part in a study aimed at highlighting how Adopting nature-friendly farming practices could make agriculture here more profitable.

Striking the Balance, a study commissioned by the Nature Friendly Farming Network, included cattle, sheep, mixed and dairy farms and looked at what effect working within environmental limits would have on farm finances.

And it found that, if all the farms looked at moving to a maximum sustainable output (MSO) approach, there would be an average increase of 35% in profitability, once support payments were taken into account.

The MSO is a metric that determines at what point a farm achieves its optimum output while harnessing the natural resources available to it.

It aims to show that farms reach a point where inputs like fertiliser, plant protection products and feed are reduced and output is maximised when natural resources are used efficiently.

Those inputs are corrective variable costs (CVC) which happen when production is overshooting the land’s capacity, compared to productive variable costs incurred when working within nature’s boundaries.

Phil Carson, from the network, said the study showed that there need not be a “trade-off” between “ambitious environmental action” and profitability.

“With the right policies, support and advice, farm businesses can reap the benefits of an approach which harnesses nature’s potential.”

The study calls the move towards MSO “potentially transformational” for the economic outlook of farming in Northern Ireland.

Five of the 17 farms in the study were operating below MSO level, meaning they could increase their livestock while still operating within natural limits.

Switching to hardier breeds which are able to thrive in the local environment would also save farmers money as those animals would need less grain or concentrates and could stay outside for more of the year, as well as potentially needing less veterinary care.

The NFFN recommendations included:

  • Trialling a new measure of farm performance based around margins rather than output and productivity
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) Farming with Nature package to support farmers wanting to harness natural resources and reduce spend on fertilisers
  • Daera to come up with ways of reducing fixed costs on farms, such as machinery sharing and group schemes for capital investment
  • Encourage more mixed livestock systems and hardier breeds within Northern Ireland