O’Neill holds talks with EU Commissioner Hogan

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill met with EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan at DARD Headquarters in Belfast to discuss a number of key issues affecting the farming sector and rural communities across the north of Ireland. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill met with EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan at DARD Headquarters in Belfast to discuss a number of key issues affecting the farming sector and rural communities across the north of Ireland. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography

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Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill MLA met with EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to discuss a number of key issues affecting our farming sector and our rural communities.

Mr Hogan, who is EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, joined Minister O’Neill for the high-level discussions at DARD headquarters in Belfast .

We discussed the changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, and in particular, concerns felt by our local industry around the active farmer issue which is impacting on availability of land for conacre.

Minister Michelle O’Neill

Following the meeting, Minister O’Neill said: “I believe we had a very constructive meeting in discussing the issues that matter to the north’s agri-food industry and rural communities.”

The Minister said she had emphasised the need for EU support to improve the competitiveness of farm and agri-food businesses, removing barriers to all-island trade, protecting and enhancing the environment and countryside and to improve the quality of life in rural communities.

She said “We discussed the changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, and in particular, concerns felt by our local industry around the active farmer issue which is impacting on availability of land for conacre. I also took the opportunity to discuss the risk of a large number of applications from young farmers and new entrants to the Regional Reserve and the potential impact of this on the level of support going to existing farmers.”

On the subject of increasing exports, the Minister impressed upon Mr Hogan the need to consider options for the removal of trade barriers: “We agreed that the long-term sustainability of the wider agri-food sector would be best served by developing access to a broader range of markets for our high quality, wholesome produce.

“We discussed the need to explore options for the removal of barriers to all-island trade, particularly the born and bred clause, which impacts on the ability to gain access to new markets for our farmers.”

Minister O’Neill said she had pressed the Commissioner on the approval process for the next Rural Development Programme (RDP).

“My officials will be working closely with the Commission to have our draft RDP 2014-2020 approved as soon as possible, ideally before the summer. The Commissioner accepted my desire to see support schemes available to farmers and rural dwellers at the earliest opportunity and agreed to progress this with his officials,” she said.

The recent difficulties facing the dairy industry and the current intervention price were also on the agenda for this meeting.

The Minister said: “We both believe that the industry has a positive future and I welcome the measures introduced to date by the Commission, including bringing forward the opening date for intervention for butter and skimmed milk powder. However, I took the opportunity to repeat my position that the current intervention price is not realistic in relation to production costs and asked that this be considered as we move forwards into the post-quota era.

“We also discussed the importance of supporting fairness in the supply chain. I believe the Commissioner and I share the same view, and it was interesting to hear from him how we could work together to achieve this goal.”