Farm scheme to open in 2017

Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen meets with key environmental groups in Crawfordsburn, Co Down, to announce new funding and hear what the key issues are for the sector. (Left to right) Jennifer Fulton, Ulster Wildlife, Joanne Sherwood, RSPB, Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen, Diane Ruddock, National Trust and Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environmental Link
Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen meets with key environmental groups in Crawfordsburn, Co Down, to announce new funding and hear what the key issues are for the sector. (Left to right) Jennifer Fulton, Ulster Wildlife, Joanne Sherwood, RSPB, Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen, Diane Ruddock, National Trust and Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environmental Link

Farmers will be disappointed that the opening of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) is still five months away, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said.

President Barclay Bell made the comment after DAERA Minister Michelle McIlveen revealed she is planning to open the long awaited scheme in early 2017.

She added: “The multi-million pound Environmental Farming Scheme is an important part of our agricultural agenda and we are working hard to be able to open it for applications in February next year.

“Whilst funding for the EFS is not covered by the recent statement by Chancellor Philip Hammond, we are very much focused on securing the funding and implementing a well-focused scheme,” Minister McIlveen explained.

Mr Bell said that farmers, who have long awaited clarification from DAERA regarding the status of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), will be pleased to finally have a date to aim for.

He added: “However, I expect there will be some disappointment on the ground with the delays to date and that we are still at least five months away from the scheme opening. From the outset, we have argued that this new scheme must be simple, practical, financially attractive and free from the problems that plagued previous schemes. The Union will continue to work to ensure that this new scheme delivers for both the environment and farmers.

“We also have concerns that the EFS is not covered by the recent announcement by the UK Treasury and what that means for those who enter into EFS contracts, however, there may be some reassurance in that DAERA is prioritising securing funding and implementing a ‘well-focused’ scheme.”

This week the Minister also revealed that half a million pounds is to be pumped into almost 30 local environmental projects thanks to money raised by the plastic bag charge.

It brings the total distributed to almost 40 projects by the Environmental Fund (EF) to over £3million this year alone.

Of the 37 organisations including Keep NI Beautiful, the RSPB and National Trust that have already benefited from EF funding this year, 19 will now receive this additional cash boost with nine new projects also benefiting from the scheme.