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Since Going for Growth in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry was introduced in 2012 we have seen huge increases in the numbers of animals reared and slaughtered here for their meat.

A new report from KPMG on how Climate Bill No 1 will hit farming economically states that in the last five years the Gross Value Added created by NI’s agricultural sector has increased by 67% from £402m to £673m. While Going for Growth is said to have delivered a leap from £4billion per in year in sales in 2012 to £5billion now.

But the rapid growth of the industry has also seen the pollution it creates rise to unsustainable levels.

Forget the methane cows and other animals produce themselves.

As we saw last week the industry is also responsible for increasing levels of nitrates and ammonia spilling into our rivers, seas, lakes and bogs and throwing environmentally sensitive ecosystems into disarray.

Air pollution kills hundreds of people here every year so I can’t even imagine what it’s doing to smaller creatures. While it has been reported time and again how we have dangerous levels of toxic particles in the air in some areas.

A smoggy looking Belfast

(Image: Getty)

In relation to our total greenhouse gas output, Agriculture is responsible for the largest share at 26% and that number is not going down.

So it’s only right that it features heavily in Climate Bill No 1 - that’s the one supported by all parties except the DUP.

The lion’s share of agriculture emissions come from beef, dairy cattle and fertilisation of land according to the KPMG report commissioned by agri-food businesses concerned about how the Bill will hit their pockets.

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They included Northern Ireland Dairy Council (DCNI), Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), Livestock and Meat Commission (LMCNI), Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA), Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) and Northern Ireland Poultry Industry Federation.

The largely economic report, published last Friday afternoon, focuses almost entirely on livestock and it makes valuable points.

I agree that reducing our emissions will hurt farmers - and that’s worrying as we do need food security for people across NI as well as though growing and rearing it.

But I failed to see any mention of how much of the food produced in Northern Ireland actually stays here. As I’ve said before, it’s about a fifth.

We all need to eat less meat. Stock image

(Image: Getty)

It talks of reduction in herds from 11% to 86% - that’s quite a margin - and much of what is predicted is based on, well, more predictions and “assumptions”.

They speak of falls in revenue across agri-food sectors and how milk production levels will return to 1946 levels - when it wasn’t done on industrial scales - and how the farming will return to a “cottage industry”.

I don’t know about you - but like Prince Charles before me - I quite like the idea of farming returning to smaller and more caring hands and away from those just out to turn huge profits.

I think we’ve all got carried away over the last 50 years or so with everything really.

More profit, more food, bigger steaks, more milk, huge varieties of ice-cream and cheese and bacon and chicken to a band playing.

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Like I said last week, our appetites have come at huge cost to our environment and the wildlife we took the countryside from.

According to the report, “roughly 79% of the total Northern Ireland land area (1.35 million hectares) is used for agriculture, including common rough grazing.

Imagine what else could be done with that land if we started looking at other ways to use some of it! Perhaps we could grow more crops that would be kinder to the environment and to ourselves?

I understand the pain of farmers worried about how Climate Bill No 1 will hit them - but what really worries me is what seems to be an all-out assault on the legislation - led by DAERA itself.

Minister Poots as he announced £10m of funding to commence the development of new Beef facilities at AFBI and CAFRE

It’s not a good look from an industry that causing huge problems for us all - no matter what way they put it.

Maybe the Bill is the wakeup call we all need to actually consider the implications of growing industries to levels so sustainable that the land can’t hold them and everything suffers.

Because let’s face it - that’s what has happened with agri-food.

And Stormont was right in the driving seat without any thought for the consequences.

That’s what makes me really mad in all this.

We went for growth without any real thought or discussion about the impact that would have.

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And before we knew it, the cat was out of the bag and we had a monster industry, ruining NI’s beautiful countryside to feed five times it’s own population.

And it’s gonna hurt even more people trying to put the Jack back in his box.

If this report on the economic impacts of paring back farming is a lesson on anything, it’s a blaring klaxon on thinking about all the impacts of your actions before you let rip.

I feel awful for the small farmers caught up in all of this - and I know that some are trying very hard to make changes that will make a difference to the countryside.

Moy Park, Dungannon

Northern Ireland is no longer a place of largely small family holdings but a behemoth of farming on an industrial scale.

I understand there are huge sums of money to be lost in signing up to Climate Bill No 1, which would set in stone a 100% reduction of 1990’s carbon emissions by 2045 - but a lot of that money doesn’t stay here.

Take Moy Park for example - while they were once a home grown firm - they are now owned by American multinational, Pilgrim’s Pride while England’s Karro Meats took over Cookstown Sausages.

And what about the the likes of firms like that, whose main aim is to get as many animals in, slaughtered and out of their factories, as quickly as possible?

I’ve not heard much about what they are doing to help their farmers meet environmental challenges despite the huge profits they are turning - but I am all ears!

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Fun fact

Plastic found around our coast

An average of 375 pieces of litter were found per 100 metres of beach surveyed in NI for the 2020 Marine Litter Report from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

Alarmingly, that equated to 18,767 items of litter recorded on the 12 beaches surveyed.

And single use plastics continue to dominate.

It kills me every time I head to the beach or am driving down a country road to see fast food containers dumped as people’s behinds - or piles of waste fly tipped in laybys.

How, in this day and age, do people still think that’s ok? It’s disgusting.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has said that in 2019, plastics were the most commonly recorded items of litter, making up 67% of all litter counted for their marine report.

On average, 37 plastic drinks containers and 48 lids were found per 100 meters surveyed.

Additionally, short pieces of string, cord and rope were found across the beaches, with an average of 70 lengths of string counted per survey.

We must do better

Despite the significant challenges presented by COVID-19 the say there is room for optimism as “this report shows that there has been a reduction in the amount of litter and in particular the amount of plastic recorded on Northern Ireland’s beaches from previous years”.

But I still think we can do better!

Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Dr Ian Humphreys said: “There is no hiding place anymore for ignorance about the impact that litter is having on our beaches, seas and waterways. We need to see greater emphasis on behaviour change campaigns and also a stronger requirement on producers of our waste to take more proactive steps in helping pay for the cost of cleaning up our waste.”

You can read the full Marine Litter 2020 Report at

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Green heroes

The Greencastle Peoples Office has been protesting against a planning application from Dalradian Gold for several years.

A community determined to continue their fight against a goldmine in their picturesque Co Tyrone village are now taking their views to Dublin.

The self-titled Earth Defenders from Greencastle People’s Office (GPO) in the Sperrins Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have organised a public meeting at the GPO in Dublin at noon on Saturday, August 21.

They then plan to walk to the Dáil where a letter will be handed in to tell the Irish Government that ‘Ireland is not for sale’.

Those behind the rally are angry with the powers that be and have accused the Irish Government, supported by Geological Survey Northern Ireland (GSNI) and others, of attending the global PDAC conference in Canada to invite mining companies to come to Ireland with promises of a range of incentives.

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As a result, prospecting licences have been issued for around 25% of NI and 28% of RoI.

The group is concerned about the environmental impact of new mines in NI and throughout Ireland and fear their health, and that of their children, and countryside will suffer if planning permission is granted.

“We invite everyone to join this meeting at GPO, Dublin at 12 noon on 21st August and march together to the Dáil to tell the Irish Government that the people don’t want mining in Ireland,” they said.

“This will be a colourful, fun, family friendly event, so people are encouraged to bring brightly coloured banners, posters and musical instruments and be part of protecting our children’s heritage on this island.”

For information about buses, please contact Greencastle People’s Office Facebook page.

Quick swap

An hourglass timer measuring four-minutes - the recommended length of time for a shower suggested by the Australian government

This week I’m not suggesting anything fancy. I’d just like you to take a minute to think about the amount of water you use and whether it’s all needed.

When you brush your teeth, do you leave the tap running? Why not turn it off?

Do you spend upwards of 20 minutes in the shower washing yourself away? In Australia they are adamant four minutes is all you need and households even have a shower egg timer to say when it’s up.

How about the washing? Do you through everything in the laundry after one wear? Why not try and get a few out of each item and try wiping away a dirty mark before dumping something in the laundry.

With a few small actions, we can really help save some water - which in turn will help NI Water reduce it’s carbon footprint as they don’t have to turn those turbines nearly as quickly.

Water is precious and something we take for granted, but for every drop less we use, we can make a little more impact on our own footprints too!

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