ULSTER Farmers’ Union President Harry Sinclair has written to DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill expressing Union members’ concerns regarding attempts to move Voluntarily Modulated (VM) money between axes of the Rural Development Programme, specifically, the possibility of moving as yet uncommitted funds from the Axis 3 farm diversification fund (Measure 3.1).
Funding allocated to Farm Diversification has, over the years, been siphoned directly from the Single Farm Payment Scheme through Voluntary Modulation.
Mr Sinclair said: “The Farm Diversification Measure offers farmers an opportunity to access funding that will allow them to invest, diversify and grow their businesses. This is especially important in the current climate given last year’s volatile weather and 50% drop in farm incomes. It seems incredible to me that DARD wish to take money from this measure and reallocate it elsewhere. The statistics from the last Rural Development Monitoring Committee show that there is still strong demand for Farm Diversification grant funding and I believe these applications should be prioritised. The proposal to reallocate funding is even more alarming when there are numerous completed diversification applications that have not even been assessed yet.
“The UFU is concerned that the reallocation of this money will result in an increased amount being diverted to fund wider strategic projects. Effectively this would mean less funding for farm businesses and that is totally unacceptable.
“I have become aware that within the local action groups, who oversee the distribution of Axis 3 funding, there has been mounting pressure to transfer money out of farm diversification and to support more strategic projects despite there being numerous applications for farm diversification funding. The reallocation of uncommitted funds in farm diversification should only be used as a last resort and if, further down the line, funds are likely to be uncommitted the union believes that these funds should be moved to other popular farm related measures within the Rural Development Programme such as the Farm Modernisation Scheme, rather than for these wider strategic projects.”
Mr Sinclair concluded: “I have urged the minister to review this situation immediately and to ensure that wider strategic projects are not prioritised over the needs of the agri-industry. It is of the utmost importance that farm diversification funding remains available to farmers so that all options are left open to our family farms. In addition to this, I have also stressed that non-Voluntary Modulated money should not be taken from Axis 1 and Axis 2 Measures that benefit farmers and transferred to strategic projects as this would significantly disadvantage the agriculture industry.”