ANC payment must be reinstated to ensure viability of SDA farms, says UFU
The Ulster Farmers’ Union says replacing the ANC scheme is a priority for farmers in severely disadvantaged areas (SDA) and Northern Ireland’s future agricultural policy must include a similar scheme. The UFU sees this as crucial in protecting the viability of family farm businesses making a living off some of the most challenging landscapes in the country.
This is the first year SDA farmers will receive no ANC payment, following on from a number of years where payments were reduced.
UFU hill farming chairman, John Kennedy says profitability remains a key issue on hill farms, adding that it has been a costly spring on farms across NI but farms in severely disadvantaged areas are feeling the pinch more acutely. “SDA farmers face challenges that farmers in other areas just don’t have. Cold weather and wet conditions have restricted grass growth and stock turnout, which has added costs. Sheep feed, such as meal, has risen over 15 per cent now costing up to £280 a tonne, and straw costing up to £180 a tonne, a 30 per cent increase on last year. Annual costs are increasing and this is why ANC payments are important for cash flow," he said.
Farm businesses in SDA areas play a critical role in Northern Ireland’s rural economy and they must be profitable in order to remain viable. In addition to losing the ANC payment, many SDA farm businesses have also lost income as a result of changes to the countryside management scheme (CMS). “The Environmental Farming Scheme, which replaced the CMS, has proven to be too bureaucratic and financially unattractive,” said Mr Kennedy.
The UFU says the ANC payment must be reinstated or an alternative must be found to help SDA farms remain profitable. Mr Kennedy said, “It is an unfortunate reality that the market often does not deliver healthy margins for primary producers, especially in SDA area. The loss of the ANC payment has hit SDA farms financially hard and has many questioning their viability. A potential knock-on effect is livestock numbers may reduce and we risk losing livestock grazing as an environmental management tool.”
The lack of an assembly at Stormont and the current Brexit crisis are not helping the situation for SDA farmers. “It has been over two years since we had a functioning NI Executive. Like many other issues facing the farming industry, without a government minister very little can be done. Brexit also continues to pose challenges. With an unprecedented level of uncertainty at the moment, the sheep sector is particularly vulnerable,” said Mr Kennedy.