Two Cork pig farms seeking planning permission have been at the receiving end of concerted anti-planning permission campaigns.
One of the proposed farms received in excess of 100 submissions from members of the public and relevant statutory bodies within the allowed time frame.
The other farm received planning permission from Cork County Council, but this has since been appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Over 300 submissions were received by planning authorities in Cork regarding this farm to date.
Both farms were subject to local and online campaigns against their respective developments.
Locals have submitted objections in both cases, while the online nature of the anti-planning campaigns has seen submissions made from locations as disparate as Dublin 4 and Vancouver, Canada.
The volume of slurry and where it was going to be spread featured prominently in submissions made to local authorities.
Data protection means that detailed information on the farms the slurry is destined for is not sought in planning submissions.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Ciaran Carroll, Teagasc’s head of knowledge transfer in the pig development department, clarified this: “Due to data protection issues, farmers cannot provide the names of landowners and locations regarding where the slurry is to be spread in their planning application.
“These are what we call customer farmers and the volume of slurry they can import varies depending on the crop they are growing. For example, root crops normally require a higher volume in comparison to grass.
“The pig farmer is required to keep records of where the slurry is exported to and make them available for viewing by the competent authority [Department of Agriculture and local authority]. At the end of each year, these records have to be submitted to the Department’s nitrates section.
“Once the slurry is spread in compliance with the nitrates directive, all is above board.”
In comparison to other farm enterprises, getting planning for a pig farm is a longer, more drawn out process.
Development of pig farms on greenfield sites is extremely rare, with modernisation of existing farms more common.
Carroll said: “There are very few greenfield pig farms but those that are being developed would be by farmers who are trying to secure a future for their family farm.”
There is huge variation between counties when it comes to pig farm planning permission. Success or failure in terms of planning varies from county to county and largely depends on their respective county development plan.
Some counties have traditionally been favourable to pig farm planning submissions, provided they complied with all slurry storage requirements and were considered not to be a potential visual blight on the local countryside.
However, other counties won’t consider any further pig or poultry farm development as it does not fit into their overall county development plans.
Whereas planning permission has been granted to a number of units in recent years, the issuing of EPA licences, which are required for large-scale pig farms, has proven to be more difficult in recent years.
Where a pig farm exceeds 750 places for sows, or 2,000 places for production pigs which are each over 30kg on one site, an EPA licence is required. There are currently in the region of 120 EPA licences issued to pig farms.
The issuing of EPA licences is a separate process to local authority planning permission and it has proven more difficult to obtain new pig farm licences in recent years. The last pig licence the agency issued was in February 2017.
IFA pig committee chair Roy Gallie said: “Our advice to pig farmers submitting applications has been to follow all recommendations from the county council and Teagasc in terms of building specifications, and have faith in our planning permission system.
“Pig farmers are well aware of the challenges ahead and we can’t put our heads in the sand on them. For example, ammonia emissions are now becoming a limiting factor to pig production. We’re seeing a number of areas in the country where development is already limited because of this.”
While variation between counties as regards planning is frustrating for pig farmers, the changing nature of Government policy has thrown up another challenge.
Gallie explains: “Food Harvest 2020 and Food Vision 2030 are polar opposites in certain areas. There has to be better planning at Government level. Irish pig farmers have surpassed all expectations for Food Harvest 2020 but now they face a much greater challenge producing pigs within the conditionality of the Green Deal, Farm to Fork and Food Vision 2030.”
He highlights the cost being imposed on farmers.
“The investment required of pig farmers, as is proposed by the Department of Agriculture, is unaffordable and unsustainable at current market conditions. Funding in this regard is going to be critical as some of the conditions being discussed are prohibitively expensive to comply with,” he insists.
“The Government needs to decide if it wants our pig sector to get bigger or get better and to provide the environment where the pig farmer is returned their investment from the marketplace.”