‘Funding challenges must be overcome’

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Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell says that the funding challenges faced by DAERA to support livestock production in areas of natural constraint and other livestock initiatives must be overcome if Government is serious about supporting a strong and vibrant beef and sheep industry - across all land types.

“Whilst the Union supports the decision by the DAERA Minister not to take funding from Pillar 1 direct support and transfer it to the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme, we still believe that the challenges the Minister faces sourcing additional Government money for the livestock sector in areas of natural constraint and wider livestock initiatives must be overcome,” said Mr Bell.

Beef and sheep commodity prices continue to leave minimal margins, the value of BPS entitlements on many farms are in decline, whilst the conclusion of agri-environment scheme agreements in recent years have meant farm income is facing serious difficulties.

“This is clearly reflected in DAERA’s own farm business income data which has shown poor income on livestock farms year in year out, said Mr Bell. He added that with support to farmers in the ANC currently forecast to conclude with a final payment in 2017, this is another blow to income on beef and sheep farms.

“Whilst we are not naïve in understanding that Government budgets are under pressure, we would encourage them to acknowledge that beef and sheep production is still the largest sector in Northern Ireland and has consistently made a significant contribution to the local economy, environment and rural society, said Barclay Bell. “This puts a platform in place for Government to justify a significant long term investment in the industry and a commitment to support livestock farmers in the ANC would be a welcome start,” he said.

Mr Bell added that there are however additional opportunities to invest in wider livestock initiatives. “Whilst we took the decision not to support coupled payments for beef and sheep, we still view targeted support for the livestock sector as a major priority, particularly that which focuses on improving production efficiencies. We simply cannot afford for our livestock sector to be left at a competitive disadvantage to farms in both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.”