AGRICULTURE Minister Michelle O’Neill has said that she is determined to speed up agri-environment payments.
She said: “I am sympathetic to the need of farmers for additional cash flow at this time. As we come through the winter, livestock farmers will find themselves with increasing feed bills, particularly as many animals had to be housed earlier than planned and consumed silage last autumn that would normally have been available from now onwards.
“There are almost 1500 participants in the NI Countryside Management Scheme who claim on their single application form each May. They have until 31 December to complete optional works, and checks are carried out the following year with payment made once checks are complete.
“Last year, I took a decision to limit the numbers on the scheme, and that has given us the capacity to begin our checks earlier than has been our experience in the past. We have already begun administrative checks on 2012 claims and will commence inspections at the start of February, enabling payments to begin in May 2013, some four months earlier than they began last year.”
The minister concluded: “I hope this will be of direct assistance to the farmers who are participating in this scheme, and will also be a signal to the banks and others that we are working alongside the farming community to reduce demands on working capital.”
Welcoming the move the UFU President Harry Sinclair said: “The UFU tabled this proposal to the minister recently in a bid to ease the cash flow problems which are affecting many farm businesses this winter.
“We are pleased that the minister has responded positively and the speeding up of these payments will be a help to the farmers who are part of these schemes. Last week the minister made commitments to also pay LFA payments earlier than planned, this was also an initiative tabled by the UFU.
“With a 50% drop in 2012 farm incomes confirmed this week, these types of policy decisions are absolutely essential to ease farmers cash flow problems this winter. However more still needs to be done for example we are strongly urging DARD to facilitate the opening of approved finishing units for TB closed herds to assist farm businesses where cash flow problems are particularly serious.”