Prof Ian Montgomery (QUB) – Maximising Production and Biodiversity in NI Agriculture
Agriculture in Northern Ireland (NI) has changed little from 1970 with its emphasis on grass production and livestock sectors. It is dependent on a narrow range of enterprises and subsidies, and beset by production, waste, financial and social issues. NI agriculture lacks a strategic plan that addresses its problems holistically, or prepares to meet global threats, in particular climate change, and priorities, most notably food security. The NI countryside also has experienced a loss of biodiversity and decline in environmental quality and, hence, provision of ecosystem services, e.g. water quality and pollination. The future of agriculture and environment are intertwined: if agriculture is to continue to absorb substantial public funds, it must deliver wider benefits to society but environmental interests must also revise their policies, if they are to promote conservation outside limited, and increasingly unmanaged, designated areas. This presentation delivers an analysis of the issues facing NI agriculture and environment, which indicate a common basis underlying their multiple problems. It addresses key results from recent research on grass production and variability in farmland biodiversity, which suggest a series of prescriptions that could benefit both agriculture and environment, and a means of bringing this about. The presentation explains that we need to change the way we farm as well as the landscape in which we farm.