Committee quizzes EU Commissioner

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The Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development met with the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan yesterday.

The meeting provided Committee members with an opportunity to address key issues such as difficulties around the implementation of CAP Pillar I and the Rural Development Plan, as well as ongoing concerns in both the local pork and dairy markets.

Speaking after the meeting, Committee Chairperson William Irwin MLA said: “One of the key issues we discussed today was the implementation of CAP Pillar I and the particular problems this could present locally. One concern that we highlighted was the new CAP requirement for recipients to be ‘active farmers’ and the move to a flat rate payment, which is already having an effect on the availability of conacre land. This could have a very real impact on farmers growing potatoes and vegetables who may find it increasingly difficult to afford and/or access land.

“We also pressed the Commissioner on his plans to further simplify the CAP process. While discussions are still at an early stage, we wanted to make clear that attempts must be made to streamline CAP to make overall financial management and crucial elements such as the Basic Payment System and rural development initiatives easier for farmers and the wider rural community.”

Deputy chairperson of the Committee, Joe Byrne MLA added: “The Russian restrictions on the import of EU dairy and pig products is continuing to have a very disruptive effect. While prices seem to be stabilising or improving elsewhere, evidence suggests that both dairy and pig prices are continuing to fall here. We told the Commissioner, that, while the introduction of Private Storage Aid (PSA) for pig meat may have alleviated some issues, many local pig farmers are concerned that the rates of support are well below those available in 2011.

“We were keen to impress upon him the need for the Commission to do more to support our local farmers and to help them to access and develop new markets for their product. We pointed out that the EU Commission measures of intervention and private storage do not appear to be working and that more suitable tools are needed to address and tackle the issue of volatility in the agri-food market as a whole.”

Mr Irwin concluded: “Today’s meeting was an important opportunity for us to speak directly to the Commissioner and to outline some of our more pressing local concerns. It is crucial that we continue to have open and honest dialogue with the Commission to ensure that our local farmers, rural communities and agricultural industries can have their voices heard and continue to play an important role in helping to shape agricultural policy and decision making at a European level.”

The committee also raised its concerns in relation to the delay in receiving final formal approval on the Northern Ireland Rural Development Plan (NIRDP) and on the possible consequences of any changes to transatlantic trade agreements with the US and Canada.