Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has raised concerns at this week’s Agriculture Committee at Stormont over possible inequalities in the Department of Agriculture’s new Young Farmers Scheme.
The Upper Bann MLA pointed out to DARD officials that under certain circumstances some young farmers would be eligible for the funds whilst others would not.
Describing what has been termed ‘Old, Young Farmers,’ Mrs Dobson said: “I described at committee a scenario where through family circumstances and perhaps the loss of a parent who was Head of Holding a young farmer at the age of 18 could have taken over as the new Head of Holding.
“Under the Department’s rules at age 23 that young farmer would be ineligible for the young farmer scheme funding because they have been Head of Holding for five years.
“I feel it is wholly and completely wrong that because of their family circumstances a farmer should be ineligible for young farmer funding which is available to others up to the age of 40 who have not been Head of Holding at such an early age.
“I questioned the rationale for calling this a ‘Young Farmer Scheme’ when in reality it would appear to me and many others to be a ‘new entrants scheme’! It’s title is misleading and creates confusion - not that DARD is any stranger to creating confusion in their reform of CAP!
“While the officials present at the meeting blamed European rules and regulations as the reason for this scenario I have asked them to go away and consult with their legal teams.
“It is unacceptable that the Department responded to my questions by saying ‘this is what we are implementing’ - they need to be putting our farmers first and not rigidly carrying out Europe’s whims.
“I have asked that the Department urgently look into the inequalities of some young farmers being eligible for funding and others not! I feel strongly that young farmers are being disadvantaged, through no fault of their own, if they are placed in this scenario!”