Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has urged farmers to prepare themselves and their business for the new schemes under CAP reform.
She made the comments at a public meeting held in Co Tyrone on Thursday night.
Minister O’Neill said: “While, firstly I want to ensure that the important monies that CAP reform provides (approximately £255million per year) are more targeted, more equitable and easily accessible, it is also important to make clear that despite my desire for a simpler CAP regime, the new schemes are greater in number and more complex. Therefore, I want to ensure that you have all the information and tools available to help you make informed decisions about your businesses.
“My department is working hard to make the new schemes as easy as possible to understand, to provide you with the support that you need, to continue to reduce the risk of disallowance, and to build on the level of online claims achieved in 2014.”
Minister O’Neill told those gathered at Creggan Community Centre that under the Basic Payment Scheme a set of new payment entitlements will be allocated to farmers who apply and meet the eligibility conditions of the scheme. One of the key conditions is that entitlements will be allocated to the person having decision making power in relation to the agricultural activity. This is referred to as the active farmer requirement.
And she told the meeting that her department has undertaken a review of all farm businesses which submitted a Single Farm Application form in 2014 to identify businesses which will not meet the active farmer requirement and therefore would not be allocated entitlements in 2015. The meeting was told that where it is found that individuals have artificially created conditions to attempt to meet the criteria to access support from the CAP, they will not only be excluded from benefitting from this support but also most likely face penalties.
She said: “It is important that all farmers need to be prepared for 2015 when new eligibility requirements are operational. To help farm businesses prepare and make an accurate claim for payment for the new schemes my department has recently sent farmers the most up-to-date mapping information which we hold about their business. It is in your interest to ensure that your map is up-to-date and that all ineligible areas are removed.”
Turning to the issue of young farmers, the minister said that a Level 2 qualification in agriculture will be required in order to qualify for a payment under the Young Farmers’ payment.
The minister added: “An educational qualification provides both an incentive and a reward for young farmers and will assist in the development of a well skilled and professional industry.”
Minister O’Neill told farmers that she has Executive agreement to a budget of up to £623 million for the next Rural Development Plan – an increase in funding of almost 16%. This will provide additional funding of up to £250 million to fund the proposed ‘Farm Business Improvement Scheme’
The minister said: “This will allow us to deliver a broad range of measures to improve the competitiveness of our farm and agri-food businesses, protect and enhance our environment and improve the quality of life in our rural communities.”