O’Neill signals start of EU Dairy Fund 2015 payments to farmers

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that EU payments to dairy farmers in Northern Ireland began today.

The Minister said: “Tackling the plight of our dairy farmers, who have been experiencing a prolonged period of severely depressed prices as a result of the global dairy crisis, remains a priority for me. I have made significant efforts to impress upon my counterparts in Britain, Dublin and Brussels the need for a swift and effective response from the EU Commission and for recognition of the extreme impact of the crisis on our farmers here.

“I am thankful for the support of our agri-food industry, the DARD Committee and our MEPs in lobbying on behalf of our dairy farmers. Last month, DEFRA announced that £5.1million, under the EU Dairy Fund 2015, would be directed to farmers in the north.

“The decision to allocate nearly one fifth of the Member State’s package to our farmers was made in response to our campaign to highlight the unique and difficult circumstances facing our industry. The payment of a higher flat rate to the north’s farmers is clear recognition of our exceptional case.”

The Legislation required to enable temporary exceptional aid to be paid to farmers, is now in place. The Minister announced that, from today, payments will be made to eligible farmers by The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on behalf of her Department.

The initial tranche of the payments will be made to those dairy farmers for whom the RPA has up-to-date banking details. Around £3.6million is due to be paid immediately to 2,250 (just over 71%) farmers in the north of Ireland. Those for whom these details are still being checked and verified will follow at the earliest opportunity. The RPA aims to have all payments made by the end of the year. The Minister has encouraged all eligible recipients to ensure that the Department has the most up-to-date information available.

The Minister added: “I would like to thank the RPA for the effort it put in to making the majority of these payments two weeks ahead of schedule. These payments will go some way towards easing the immediate cashflow concerns of our farmers. I will continue to explore every avenue to support our farmers at this challenging time, and fully intend to keep up the pressure on Phil Hogan to review an increase to intervention prices to provide a greater safety net for farmers and to assist the market to stabilise.”

Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers’ Union notes that the EU dairy support package will be made – two weeks ahead of schedule.

A spokesperson added: “The UFU have said all along that these payments are inadequate in relation to the scale of the difficulties the industry is facing however, when farmers are under extreme cash flow pressures any payment will bring some relief.”