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Barclays launches fund to help NI farmers drive sustainability

Richard Lilburn, local farmer.

Barclays has teamed up with Nigel Owens MBE, world-renowned rugby union referee and Welsh cattle farmer, to launch a new campaign driving awareness among consumers of the benefits of helping the food system become carbon net zero.

Sustainability Through Agri-Tech will also provide farmers with access to £250m available to support their business to become carbon net-zero through Agri-Tech solutions.

In a survey of 209 Northern Irish farmers from a larger sample of 1,000 across the UK, eight in 10 believe they could be carbon neutral by 2035, five years ahead of the 2040 target set by the National Farmers Union (NFU) for England and Wales.

One in seven believe that they have already reached this goal, while 73% said they were thinking about how to make their businesses more sustainable in the wake of the pandemic. More than three-quarters of Northern Irish respondents also said becoming greener will increase their farm’s competitiveness after the UK has left the EU, indicating Brexit could accelerate their transition to becoming carbon neutral.

Barclays has also uncovered a growing appetite among the Northern Irish population for carbon neutral foods, with research indicating that the average consumer there would pay £235.56 per year on top of their shopping basket totals for more sustainable produce. When taking the whole population of Northern Ireland into account, this totals over £340m of additional spend.[1]

When farmers were asked what investments they were making to become more sustainable, more than a quarter in Northern Ireland said that they had or plan to plant more trees or hedgerows, while 26% had spent or are planning to invest in Agri-Tech to become more efficient.

Northern Irish respondents also suggested that they plan to or are improving their waste and slurry management (22%), while 19% are considering or already are investing in wind turbines and 17% in solar power.

Over three quarters of Northern Irish farmers said that the UK needs a more resilient food system to cope with rising temperatures, and 71% revealed sustainability and business efficiency to be their farm’s top priorities.


The Barclays campaign highlights Agri-Tech as key to helping the industry on its carbon neutral mission, as well as improve productivity. Eighty-two per cent of Northern Irish farmers surveyed said Agri-Tech could help their business to become more sustainable and efficient, while almost three quarters said it would enable them to produce more food.

“We use a wide variety of tech on our farm – from robots to milk our cows, backscratchers and hoof scrapers to keep them healthy and happy, to automated feeding systems and motion sensors which use algorithms to monitor their health,” said Richard Lilburn, owner of Brookvale Farm in Dromore, Co Down.

“Happier cows are healthier cows and the technology we are using on our farm means they produce more milk, so that’s good for business.

“We have plans to become carbon net zero through planting trees, installing solar panels and hopefully investing in an anaerobic digester, but farms like ours do need help to achieve this. Farming more efficiently and more sustainably will ultimately help all aspects of farm business and life and technology will always be able to improve how we operate.”

Nigel Owens MBE, rugby union referee and farmer in Pontyberem, Wales, said: “It’s great we’re starting to talk more about how farmers can further enhance the environment and be part of the climate change solution while keeping the nation fed and healthy, which is especially important at times like this.

“I’m a proud owner of 35 Herefordshire cows, and cattle play an important role in the ecosystem when managed properly. Grassland is very good at capturing carbon from out of the atmosphere, and soil is key to carbon sequestration policies, an underrated solution to tackling climate change. I’ll continue to plant more trees and will look into Technologies that can help the farm to become more efficient too.”

Mark Suthern, national head of agriculture at Barclays Business Bank, said: “There’s already a huge amount of work going on across farming enterprises of all types so their businesses can reach the carbon net zero goal by 2040. It’s also encouraging to see consumers willing to pay for carbon neutral foods, as we all consider our role in helping the industry become carbon neutral from farm to fork.

“Without doubt, investment in technologies will play a part in businesses becoming carbon neutral, but it’s important that we continue to support the sector in the supply chain, both as an industry and with Government policy. We also know that over three quarters of Northern Irish farmers want access to further financial support from their bank to invest in this type of Technology, with 79% believing it could increase job opportunities and will dramatically change the type of skills the sector requires over the coming years.

“Our research shows the average Northern Irish farmer is set to invest £136,820 over the next decade to achieve greater efficiency and become more sustainable. That’s why we have made available £250m and with our team of agricultural relationship managers we can help to advise on investments and their carbon net zero ambitions.”

More information on how farmers apply to the £250m available can be found at:

RESEARCH: Farmer Research Conducted by Opinion Matters 26.08.20 -03.09.20. Sample: 1000 Farmers based in England, Wales, Scotland, & Northern Ireland, of which 209 were in Northern Ireland

Consumer Research Conducted by Opinion Matters 14.09.20 – 17.09.20. Sample: 2000 nationally representative 18+ Adults in the UK, of which 52 were in Northern Ireland

[1] Opinion Matters used ONS population figures to calculate the £342,259,728.72 figure. Barclays found that consumers are willing to pay an additional £235.56 per year on groceries that are carbon neutral. Calculation: £235.56 x 1,452,962 (ONS 2019 18+ figures) = £ 342,259,728.72.

National spend calculation: Opinion Matters used ONS population figures to calculate the £10,134,368,509.20 figure. Barclays found that consumers are willing to pay an additional £192.40 per year (£3.70 per week) on groceries that are carbon neutral. Calculation: £192.40 x 52,673,433 (ONS 2019 18+ figures) = £10,134,368,509.20

Note – Farmers were able to select ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to statements in the survey, and these have been added together to report on the percentages.

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