THE Ulster Farmers’ Union leadership have presented the Agriculture Minister with a number of initiatives to ease the cash flow problems being faced by many local farms.
The UFU says the financial difficulties faced by farmers is the result of a very difficult farming year in 2012 with businesses affected by bad weather, rising costs and disappointing farm gate prices.
The union says the quality, availability and price of winter fodder is making matters worse for many producers.
In a meeting with the Agriculture Minister, the UFU tabled the following proposals:
l DARD should request permission from the EU Commission to immediately release 50% of outstanding Single Farm Payments to applicants who are unlikely to have serious penalties arising from their claim.
l DARD veterinary staff should review their restrictions on setting up “Approved Finishing Units” with a view to urgently putting in place AFU’s which could relieve the pressure on herds with movement restrictions due to animal disease controls.
l DARD should consider whether LFA payments could be released earlier than early March.
l DARD should consider releasing part payments on all outstanding Agri Environment scheme claims.
l DARD should consider setting aside some Rural Development funding as an “animal welfare crisis fund”, should current difficulties get worse.
l The Agriculture and Finance Ministers should consider a joint approach to HMRC to request a deferment of farm business taxation due at the end of January.
l The Agriculture and Finance Ministers should consider whether a short term loan guarantee scheme could be established to deal with farm businesses where banks are refusing to extend additional facilities.
UFU president Harry Sinclair said: “These are pro-active measures which we feel are necessary and would considerably assist farmers who are facing a very difficult winter with a growing cash flow problem. I hope the Northern Ireland Executive can respond positively.
“The underlying prospects for the future of the industry are very good but there is a cash flow problem this winter which needs to be overcome so that we can realise the anticipated economic growth which the industry has the potential to deliver.”
Speaking after the meeting the minister said it was an opportunity for her to hear at first hand the UFU’s concerns about the real financial problems facing the local farming industry.
“I am very conscious of the difficult situation facing our farmers and wider rural communities at this time, in the context of rising production costs, increasing feed prices and the impact of the recent bad weather,” she added.
“While many of the contributing factors are beyond our control, such as weather conditions and the volatility of global markets, I believe that all farmers should get a fair price for their produce and that everyone in the food supply chain should share in the risks, costs and rewards.
“My department will continue to support farmers and already has a number of initiatives in place designed to help farmers operate in the most efficient and cost-effective way they can. For example, under the Rural Development Programme, my department has provided £45 million funding for a number of schemes which are open to all farming sectors. In addition, I recently announced my decision not to apply a further year’s voluntary modulation which will have the effect of adding £15 million (at current exchange rates) available to farmers through the 2013 SFP payments and helping them to plan ahead.”
In response to concerns raised by the UFU about cash-flow difficulties due to restrictive money lending by banks etc to help ease farmers’ cash-flow difficulties, the minister said that she would carefully examine any options that are available to help assist the local industry during these difficult times.
“I share the UFU’s concerns about the increase in production costs and current market conditions being experienced by farmers here. We all want to see a profitable local agri-food sector as part of a thriving and sustainable rural economy. My department will continue to provide advice and assistance to ensure that farmers are operating in the most cost-effective way they can. Despite this difficult trading background, I am encouraged that stakeholders are engaging positively with the Agri-Food Strategy Board as it considers a longer-term strategy for growth of the industry. More than ever, the industry needs to have a clear vision of what it can achieve and what action is required to support its development.”