McIlveen announces double boost for Northern Ireland agriculture sector

Michelle McIlveen, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister

Michelle McIlveen, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister

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Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen has provided a double boost to the agriculture sector by announcing advance CAP payments and the next phase of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS).

In a keynote address at CAFRE awards day, Miss McIlveen told graduates that she was committed to their future, to grow the agri-food industry and to develop the economy.

“I want to ensure that we work to grow our industry. But I am aware of the challenges ahead and I recognise the pressures felt by some farmers and the importance of scheme payments to farm incomes.”

Michelle McIlveen, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister

Speaking to around 250 graduates and their families, she said: “It is very encouraging to see such a large number of graduates and I would like to congratulate each of you. The agri-food industry makes a very valuable contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, with around 100,000 people being employed in the food chain. Today’s graduates hold a significant role in supporting this industry.

“I want to ensure that we work to grow our industry. But I am aware of the challenges ahead and I recognise the pressures felt by some farmers and the importance of scheme payments to farm incomes. That is why I am committing today to pay at least 95% of eligible Basic Payment Scheme applicants in December. However, I would like to go further so I have asked my Department to introduce advance payments this year from October 16.”

The Minister added that making advance payments is a new initiative which will be carried out more efficiently if more farmers apply online.

Graduates from across Northern Ireland and beyond were joined at the ceremony at CAFRE’s Greenmount campus by employers and industry stakeholders. During her speech the Minister recognised the industry commitment to education programmes at CAFRE which, she said, demonstrated the benefits it delivers in preparing our future innovators and leaders.

The Minister went on to say that it is not only the students who benefit. The CAFRE Development Service provides support services for farmers and growers and uses the facilities at Greenmount in the delivery of training and in the demonstration of new technologies for farmers.

In announcing her second boost for agriculture, Miss McIlveen said: “CAFRE plays a key role in delivering the new Farm Business Improvement Scheme - a package of measures designed to improve the competitiveness of our farming industry. The first phase is already under way, with the launch of the Business Development Groups and Farm Family Key Skills. The next phase will be the capital scheme, which will offer grants, both smaller scale and in excess of £30,000, to farmers who are determined to expand their businesses. I am delighted to announce that, subject to final approval, this scheme will be open for applications in October.

“I want to ensure that we invest in the next generation of farmers. Therefore, in order to encourage generational renewal, to recognise educational achievement and to maximise the benefits of long term investment, the new capital scheme will favour both young farmers and educated farmers at the selection stage.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Miss McIlveen highlighted the importance of education and training to the food sector and also recognised the high calibre of student graduating.

She said: “In order to deliver a competitive industry which can drive forward the economy, we need to invest in the education of those pursuing a career in the industry. I am therefore delighted by the number, range and standard of qualifications presented here today. You are entering an industry that has continuously demonstrated a capacity to address challenges and a vision to grow. I am also encouraged that interest in agriculture courses remains strong and that young people recognise the importance of education and training.”

And the Minister promised her commitment to supporting the industry following the EU referendum.

She said: “I am aware of the challenges caused by the impact of global market volatility, exchange rate fluctuations and international trade. As of last Friday, we have an additional uncertainty following the referendum result and the changes, and opportunities, that this will eventually bring.

“But let me make this clear, I am committed to addressing all of these challenges. By working collectively with stakeholders, producers, suppliers, processors and retailers, we can build a dynamic and flexible industry that is well positioned in the global marketplace to capitalise on the growing demand for food worldwide and to meet both the challenges and opportunities presented by the EU exit. Through the Executive, I will be work to ensure a joined up approach to developing new market opportunities.”

The Minister went on to say: “I will be engaging with Westminster and elsewhere in the UK, as well as in Dublin and Brussels, to help forge a new relationship with Europe and to develop a support framework that meets the needs and aspirations of our agri-food sector. It is only right that we take our time to agree new arrangements, and in the meantime, we continue to access the CAP support regime and the EU trading opportunities on the same basis as before.”