Seven months after winning Sustainability category at last year’s British Farming Awards, pig producer James Wright is continuing to prove sustainability pays, as his business makes it into the top 30 companies list in Northern Ireland. Debbie James reports.

James Wright suggests farmers, as guardians of the land, will lead the way in helping the UK achieve net zero. The farmer, businessman, entrepreneur and sustainability trailblazer says: “We can prove that committing to carbon zero can be good for business. “Farming is a constantly changing business and market conditions must be considered, not just locally, but globally too.” Imported soya was once the principal protein in the pig ration in his business, JMW Farms, Co Armagh, but by investing in its own research and development facility, the company is now incorporating more locally produced alternatives in the diet without penalties to herd performance. Although soya is high in energy and protein, James wanted to reduce the volumes of this feed to further improve the sustainability of his system at Tonnagh Farm. In the last 12 months, he has expanded his purpose-built research and development centre and has even appointed a dedicated staff member to head this department. This facility is used to trial different feed combinations to inform the environmental impact of the ration, their implications for welfare in the pig herd and yield ratios.


James says: “Most importantly it has allowed us to become a self-sustaining enterprise. We have placed a strong focus on reducing the air miles of the raw materials in our animal diets.” The on-farm feed mill produces specific meal mixes, including locally grown pulses, beans and peas. Individual feeding systems and mixes have reduced gut health issues and ultimately resulted in fewer mortalities. James says: “At the forefront of our minds is sustainability, environmental planning and a carbon-free system. “Our aim, which we are very close to achieving, is zero carbon pork.” James visited Denmark and Germany to learn from the breeding methods developed there and, in the last year, his breeding farm has been entirely restocked with more than 6,000 pigs, introducing specially-bred animals which are more resilient and healthier. So far this is paying dividends, with a pig herd which is antibiotic-free. He says: “Added benefits are increased numbers of piglets, fewer sick animals, lower fallen stock numbers and ultimately a better bottom line.” In May 2021, the business was incorporated and now sits in the top 30 companies list in Northern Ireland. Since receiving the accolade from the British Farming Awards, JMW Farms has continued to invest in its renewables plant. This facility not only deals with slurry from its own system, but has been extended to allow alternative food
waste to be processed.


James says: “We are completely energy independent and are now PAS 2060 accredited, the only recognised international standard for carbon neutrality.” The business recently submitted plans to the local authority to develop a larger and more efficient anaerobic digestion plant. This, says James, will pave the way towards creating the biofuel, BioLNG, to fuel the farm’s machinery and produce liquid nitrogen to fertilise its farmland. The water produced during this process will be used on-site and the by-product of organic materials will be sold to the horticulture sector to generate income.


Although the business has been very responsive in the last 12 years, in its ambitions to become an efficient and effective farming enterprise, James believes it has become vitally important to address and continue that path of change in response to the recent Climate Change Bill in Northern Ireland. This Bill, he predicts, will have major implications for the farming sector. James says: “Issues around embodied energy, traceability, carbon footprint, feed and of course slurry handling all have major implications for traditional farming methods. “We must be able to adapt quickly if we are to survive.” Despite such an impressive and progressive business, James says he does not see himself as being different to any other farmer. “We tend to keep a low profile, so being awarded Sustainability category in 2021 gave myself and the entire team a tremendous boost. “It was proof that we were indeed doing something different. “The journey since then has seen us focus on what we believe to be the key areas of the business, which are research and development, attaining carbon zero and animal welfare and genetics. “The combination of these and their continual monitoring is what dictates the success of our business.”