Fermanagh Area Plan 2007
Economy: Agriculture & Forestry
Agriculture is the main land use in Fermanagh and is the most important industry and source of income in rural areas. The main activity can be accounted for by beef and dairy farming, with beef increasing in importance. Sheep farming has also become established as an important activity. In 1993, 3,590 farm holdings in County Fermanagh had a total area of 125,289 hectares, an average of 34.9 hectares per holding.
Farm incomes are falling in real terms primarily due to unfavourable pricing of commodities reflecting weakening world markets for both dairy products and beef. This has been exacerbated by a reduction in financial assistance from the European Community and associated changes in Common Agricultural Policy. These changes mean that most farmers in Fermanagh have suffered a fall in income and this has led to a demand for alternative employment on or off the farm.
The Department accepts the need for farmers to diversify into non-agricultural activities to supplement their farming income and the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland has a range of grant assistance to support this process. In Fermanagh an obvious opportunity for agricultural diversification is offered by the tourism industry. The range of acceptable diversification activities already grant aided is wide and is likely to grow. Many farmers have already developed tourist accommodation e.g. chalets and guest houses or leisure activities e.g. pitch & putt courses and horse riding. However there is also scope to diversify into other activities e.g. craft manufacture or agricultural machinery repair. The new enterprise should be an integral part of the farm business and should only result in small scale land use change.
A substantial proportion of farm land in Fermanagh is included in the West Fermanagh and Erne Lakeland Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). The ESA scheme was introduced by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland (DANI) to help safeguard areas of the countryside where the landscape, wildlife or historic interest is of particular importance and where that interest would benefit through farmers continuing with, or engaging in, environmentally sensitive farming practices. The purpose of the scheme is to encourage farmers to continue with or to adopt specific farming methods which help to protect and enhance the conservation value of the their land. Farmers may enter into voluntary agreements with the Department of Agriculture, in return for which an annual payment is made for each hectare of land entered into the scheme.
Forestry operations in Fermanagh are carried out by the Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the private sector. The Department of Agriculture has extensive land holdings and the production of timber is combined with public recreation. Approximately 60 industrial workers are employed by the Forest Service. Government policy in Northern Ireland is to encourage afforestation on land where forestry is considered to be the most appropriate long-term land use. In the recent publication "Afforestation - The DANI Statement on Environmental Policy" the Forest Service has provided guidance on the environmental criteria to be used in considering particular afforestation proposals. The opportunity to extend afforestation onto more productive sites is also highlighted. New private afforestation is encouraged by grant aid from the Department of Agriculture and while this is biased towards broad-leaved species, some ground conditions are only suitable for conifers.
Most agricultural and forestry operations do not currently fall within the scope of planning control.
- To promote a sustainable rural economy by facilitating appropriate diversification of agricultural enterprises.
The Department's Strategic and Regional Planning Policies for Agriculture are currently contained in "A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland" published in September 1993.