ANC payments welcome but decision to close scheme needs reviewed, says UFU

UFU's John Kennedy
UFU's John Kennedy

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the arrival of ANC payments into bank accounts over the coming weeks will be welcomed by farmers after the long, wet winter, however, there is still significant concern that DAERA has persisted with a plans to end the scheme this year.

UFU hill farming chairman, John Kennedy (pictured) said: “Spring is a costly time of the year on all farms. It’s even more expensive on farms in severely disadvantaged areas where cold weather and wet conditions restrict grass growth and stock turnout. This drives up costs annually and that is why ANC payments are so important for cash flows.”

The decision to cut the rate paid this year and to close the scheme entirely is a major blow to farmers in hill areas.

“The UFU has consistently asked that DAERA review their position and extend this scheme post 2018. However, DAERA officials believe the modest increase in Basic Payment to severely disadvantaged areas will offset the loss of ANC payments. In reality, this could not be further from the truth,” said Mr Kennedy.

“Many SDA farms are losing money from the Basic Payment transition process while others will be affected by a loss of income due to the fact the Environmental Farming Scheme has been made too bureaucratic and financially unattractive.”

Like many other important issues, re-opening the debate about extending the ANC scheme is not possible without an Executive at Stormont. Mr Kennedy says if the NI Assembly gets back up and running, reopening the ANC scheme before the end of the current Rural Development Programme must be considered.

Looking ahead to farm support policy post Brexit, the UFU says there needs to be new and more effective forms of hill support available.

“Farms in hill areas make a major contribution to our economy through food production and supporting tourism, while also delivering real benefits for the environment and the preservation of rural heritage. This has been recognised for decades by the EU and we would expect the UK government to strongly acknowledge this as part of a future UK agriculture policy,” said Mr Kennedy.