Initial comments from UFU on direct payments consultation

Wednesday, 2 October, 2013

Following Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s launch of a consultation on the options for direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Ulster Farmers’ Union has shared its initial comments.

Ulster Farmers’ Union President Harry Sinclair said; “The Common Agriculture Policy and direct payments play a very important role in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry. After a horrendous year farm incomes were down 50% in 2012 and support from Europe was one of the only things keeping many farmers afloat. Now that a political agreement has been reached at an EU level on the reform of the CAP, it is critically important that we get the implementation right and it is encouraging to see that many of DARD’s suggestions in the consultation document are already broadly in line with the UFU’s position. 

“There is support for a long and smooth transition to a flatter rate direct payment which is positive and would allow farmers to plan for their businesses. Direct payments must be targeted at those actively farming the land, the EU Commission is crystal clear about this and we are at risk of hefty penalties if we do not comply. How this is best done is still something we are considering but the Minister and DARD need to ensure a suitable mechanism is in place in order to allow this to be delivered. Greening is another issue our members are concerned about. Any additional greening measures must be implemented in a pragmatic way and we are pleased that DARD has proposed to implement permanent grassland maintenance on a regional basis, rather than at a individual level. However, many farmers in Northern Ireland will be exempt from additional greening measures as 75% of their holding will be grassland and less than 30 hectares will be annual arable crop and therefore they will be considered ‘green by definition’. Attracting young farmers to the industry is vital as well; since they are the future of our industry so it is important that we find the best way to target support at them.

“However, DARD’s proposed regionalisation model and the proposal to remove the LFA scheme are both major issues we need to consider in more detail. How direct payments are distributed to farmers in Northern Ireland is also a big consideration. With the new CAP we want to see a straight forward, sensible approach taken to distribution while paperwork and bureaucracy are kept to an absolute minimum.

“In real terms, 2015 isn’t far away and decisions much be reached quickly to allow farmers time to plan. The Union will be considering DARD’s consultation document in detail and submitting our response in due course.”