Guest blog on behalf of Nature Matters NI
My name is Jack Kelly and I'm a nature-friendly farmer from County Down. There are a lot of farmlands in Northern Ireland tended to by farmers such as myself, transforming the land into a breadbasket that the entire country can benefit from. But if we want to continue to reap the benefits, it's important that we look after nature by farming in environmentally-friendly ways. I used to farm intensively - looking to grow as much as possible without much concern for what that may do to the land - but then I got support from environmental organisations who gave advice on how I could farm in nature-friendly ways that aren’t as taxing for the local environment. I changed my approach to farming by doing things like planting spring crops and cultivating my hedges to preserve the variety of wildlife and plants on the farm.
I saw the benefits before my eyes, I would be walking along my farm or ploughing the fields and notice more birds flying around. I bought some books about wildlife so that I could identify them. There are also other benefits; using less chemicals saves the farm more money in the long run.
At the minute I'm concerned about the impact that leaving the EU will have on ordinary farmers. A lot of us rely on the Single Farm Payment and agri-environment schemes. It's very uncertain whether there will be enough funding for farmers to continue to do what they do best without overworking the land. If those schemes aren't available to us any more, it will become increasingly difficult to look after wildlife and the environment in the ways we're doing at the moment. It will also halt innovation of new techniques to farm in ways that will benefit nature and wildlife.
The current situation isn’t perfect, after all agri-environment schemes are not that well funded, and the application process is not straightforward. If applying for it wasn’t so complex and the rules weren’t so rigid, it would encourage more farmers to take part.
As far as I’m concerned, despite the uncertainty of it all, Brexit offers an opportunity for us. A well-built reform to agricultural subsidies that puts fairness towards farmers and a nature-friendly approach first could improve our situation greatly, letting farmers like myself continue do the job that we’re good at. That’s why we’re open to working with environmental organisations, especially those that have knowledge about and care about the preservation of wildlife and nature.
I think it's important that the farming and environmental organisations work together to campaign for a new subsidy system that is fair to farmers and protects nature in Northern Ireland. I’m looking forward to having my voice heard at the Nature Matters NI's conference. Jack is attending the Nature Matters NI conference 'Brexit: Debating the Way Forward for Agriculture and the Environment in Northern Ireland, which takes place in Antrim on Friday 29 September. For more details, visit http://bit.ly/SeptBrexitConf or follow @NatureMattersNI on Twitter.