Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster hosted an evening conference on Thursday 9th February in partnership with long-standing Platinum sponsors Danske Bank and Sustainability partner Power NI. The conference was kindly facilitated by CAFRE at Loughry College, Cookstown, and focused on ‘Sustainable Farming through a cost of living crisis’.
The event brought YFCU members and industry experts together to learn, question and debate the current economical and environmental issues impacting the food and farming industry.
The opening speaker of the evening was Rodney Brown, Head of Agriculture, at Danske Bank. Rodney discussed the current financial and environmental impacts on the agri-business market as a whole, and how these factors influence individual farm business income. Although recognising the acute difficulties currently faced, Rodney reiterated the necessity of planning ahead in these uncertain times. He encouraged members to consider the ‘what-if?’ scenarios, get the right support, build strong relationships with suppliers, and create a plan to address projected concerns or issues at an early stage, to better manage and respond to the effects of the current unpredictable external environment.
Patrick Flynn, C.A.F.R.E Technology Demonstration farm host, then offered members a detailed insight to his approach to farming a large-scale arable enterprise; working with the environment to achieve efficient environmental sustainability, using regenerative agricultural practices to rebuild soil organic matter and restore biodiversity, working towards carbon reduction. Patrick focused members on the importance of annual soil and manure analysis to identify a specific nutrient management plan and carbon footprint measurement, to establish the sources of emissions on an individual farm. While acknowledging the pitfalls and inconsistencies of the current tools and processes available to assess carbon footprint, Patrick reiterated both the environmental and financial benefits of recording and demonstrating a trend of reducing emissions, and how this will only become more vital in maintaining a viable farm, as the industry moves forward. He urged members to start now, suggesting beginning with small low risk investment options, to allow the opportunity to develop an understanding of the processes and outcomes. Patrick also demonstrated the importance and long-term value of becoming educated on, and where possible, investing in new farm technologies, such as Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE), Variable Rate Technology (VRT) and Global Positioning System (GPS), in order to increase both time and financial efficiencies and avoid excessive nutrient application, ultimately reducing costs, emissions and benefiting water quality.
John McLenaghan, Deputy President, of Ulster Farmers Union, the final speaker of the evening, presented a higher-level discussion on what sustainability means from different perspectives. John discussed looking at the wider industry contributions and responses throughout the whole food chain. He emphasised the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic; challenging members to consider their position in the current climate, not only on an individual or local basis, but as an impactor on a worldwide scale, questioning their potential to effect change for this and future generations. John also discussed the current cost-of-living crisis reviewing consumer spending, changing trends and how this is ultimately impacting the individual farmer. He put the question to members ‘can we afford not to be sustainable?’ and although accepting the concerns young farmers justifiably have in the industry at present, John implored members to be excited about the future of the farming industry and be proud to be part of it.
The closing session of the evening was a panel discussion hosted by YFCU President, Peter Alexander, welcoming back the evening’s three speakers. Members and guests were given the opportunity to question the panel, voicing concerns and raising issues centering on benchmarking of carbon footprint assessment and their struggle to select and correctly apply the assessment process. The panel encouraged members to initially take the approach of consistent, regular measurement and recording to demonstrate a positive direction of travel, rather than focusing on percentage reduction. They explained that this would allow time to develop individual understanding, whilst measurement processes and benchmarking are standardised across industries.
Food pricing and the command of retailers was a further point of discussion raised to the panel by YFCU Vice President, Richard Beattie. Patrick Flynn responded by highlighting the importance of taking the time to inform suppliers of the increased cost of production. He implored members to put their case forward, negotiate and avoid putting off because there is too much work to be done on the farm.
Closing remarks came from Rodney Brown tasking members to put their story out there, tell the public about the process of farming in Northern Ireland, the challenges experienced, the effort, the investment and the good work being done. Rodney further commenting on the evening stated“ Danske Bank were delighted to take part in a very thought-provoking evening and to engage with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster on the topical subject of Sustainability”.
YFCU President, Peter Alexander, remarked “It was an informative opportunity for members, friends and family to hear the speaker’s views on sustainability. There was a great discussion and a series of questions for our panelists, so the audience could learn from their knowledge and experience. An important point from the evening for me was that as young farmers, we need to be proud of all that we do and sell our story better to show that we are custodians of the countryside and aim to work sustainably by implementing new technologies. These events are particularly beneficial as our young farmers are the future of the agriculture industry.”
YFCU would like to thank our generous platinum sponsors Danske Bank and Power NI, along with our speakers, Rodney Brown, Head of Agriculture, at Danske Bank, Patrick Flynn, C.A.F.R.E Technology Demonstration farm host and John McLenaghan, Deputy President, Ulster Farmers Union, without whom, we could not have been able to hold such a beneficial evening for our members.