‘Neglected’ sheep farmers will be ‘severely impacted’ if changes are not made to proposals

Sheep farms, particularly those in Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC), will be “severely impacted” if changes are not made to the proposals set out in the Future Agricultural Policy Framework.

Voicing his concerns, Sinn Fein MLA, Declan McAleer, said sheep farmers have been ‘neglected’ and slammed the proposals for their lack of support for such farmers, who will ‘have their new Single Farm Payment modulated by up to 17 per cent, with none of this earmarked for a sheep support scheme’.

Mr McAleer, who is chair of the assembly’s agriculture committee, commented: “When the Single Farm Payment system came in, sheep farmers in Less Favoured Areas (LFA) and ANC areas historically had entitlement values below the regional average.

“They laboured with this for years then, in 2015, the then Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, introduced a seven-year transition towards a flat/equal rate per entitlement.

“This was good news for sheep farmers, but when Minister Poots came into office in 2020, he halted this transition and, along with his party’s decision to scrap the ANC hill farm payment, has removed millions of pounds each year from small farmers, mostly in areas of natural constraint.

“The latest agriculture proposals from the minister continue this neglect by failing to re-introduce the ANC payment and not including any plans to introduce a sheep support scheme.

“This is grossly unfair because, under the proposals, all farmers, including sheep farmers, will have their new Single Farm Payment modulated by up to 17 per cent, but none of this is earmarked for a sheep support scheme.

“This also places our farmers at a serious competitive disadvantage to farmers in the south which has the ANC and a sheep welfare scheme.”

The West Tyrone assemblyman concluded: “As well as the minister’s plans to remove almost 5,000 farms from the new Single Farm Payment scheme, as they are under 25 acres, these latest proposals could inflict even more serious and long lasting damage on our hill farms and rural communities.”