Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Northern Ireland

Explore what the inquiry has done to date and what their work programme looks like going forward.

Northern Ireland’s rural landscape of green fields and large areas of upland punctuated by loughs and criss-crossed by rivers hosts over 25,000 farms and around 23,500 species.

The vast majority of Northern Ireland's farmland is devoted to grazing for beef, sheep and dairy production which helps support a strong food processing industry. Together farming and food processing are responsible for 5% of Northern Ireland employment.

Almost all powers related to food, farming and the countryside are devolved to the Assembly at Stormont although, unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland is subject to the rules of the EU Single Market. International trade policy, however, is set by the UK Government which leaves Northern Ireland in a rather uncertain place sharing a land border with the EU. Cross border movements are stitched into the fabric of our economy and many people’s daily lives. The future holds both threats and opportunities for farming, food and the environment.

What has happened so far

Our inquiry’s first report, Lay of the Land, gathered evidence of citizens’ views through a series of workshops with farmers, shoppers, community groups, environmentalists, chefs, traders, young and old.

Views expressed came with passion and conviction and emerged as a series of ‘disconnects’ in the complex system of our food, farming and countryside. The feeling was that the system isn’t working and current policy and practice is failing to address the issues. There was clearly an appetite for a different future but little consensus on what that future should look like.

Our report used the information we had gathered to construct a ‘framework for change’ comprising a series of ‘outcomes’ to be achieved over the next 10 years including: fair returns for farmers, conserving soils, cutting emissions and restoring biodiversity, nutritious food and healthy diets available to everyone, increased local produce to meet local demand and countryside that is accessible to all.

Who is involved

The inquiry is led by Patrick Casement, chair, and John Woods who provides the secretariat. The members of the inquiry are:

  • John Best, Farmer
  • Kate Clifford, Director, Rural Community Network
  • Charlie Cole, Farmer
  • Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive, Ulster Wildlife
  • Jim Kitchen, Visiting Professor, Ulster University
  • Joe McDonald, Senior Corporate Affairs Manager, Asda NI
  • Gary McFarlane, Director, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health NI
  • John Martin, Coordinator, Nature Matters
  • Dr Liz Mitchell, Retired Consultant in Public Health
  • Diane Ruddock, External Affairs Manager, The National Trust, Northern Ireland
  • Professor Nigel Scollan, Director, Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Michele Shirlow, Chief Executive, Food NI

What’s happening next

Our current work is focusing on three of the key recommendations in our report.

  • First is the need to build trust right across the system and find ways forward together. We are working with government, farmers, environmentalists, business, community groups and academics to develop agreed approaches, the research needed to underpin them and the leadership needed to implement them. The first of these is a partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs in developing the potential of the public sector in procuring local, sustainable, seasonal and healthy food.
  • Secondly, we plan to embark on a programme of continuing and extensive public engagement including a focus on those whose opinions often go unheard. And thirdly, we plan to work with a small number of communities at a local level to form partnerships to ‘prototype’ new ideas and solutions.


John Woods