Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has confirmed the formal approval of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014–2020 for Northern Ireland by the European Commission.
This paves the way for up to £623 million in funding to become available for improving farming and agri-food businesses, protecting the environment and supporting rural development projects.
The new measure will introduce schemes to help farmers improve productivity, contain costs and review their business models.
The minister said: “This is very positive news, not just for our rural communities, but for everyone in the north of Ireland. The new Rural Development Programme will provide opportunities for our rural communities and farmers alike.
“I’m confident that every single penny allocated as part of this programme will go towards creating rural jobs, developing our rural infrastructure and investing in the future sustainability of the farming industry. The programme will also provide fantastic cross-border initiatives focusing on tourism and further integrating border communities.
“The approval of the new RDP is the culmination of over three years of work from my Department and our stakeholders beginning in 2012, before the European rural development regulations were agreed. Since then we have been working with our stakeholders across the agriculture, environmental and rural development sectors to develop a balanced programme that meets their needs while helping to support the growth of our rural areas.
“Our engagement with stakeholders included a 16 week consultation period, a series of public information meetings across the north, and the formation of a Stakeholder Consultation Group to further guide programme development. I am grateful to all the individuals and organisations who participated in this process.”
In July 2014, Executive approval was granted for a Rural Development Programme containing support worth up to £623million, made up of:
1) Up to £257 million for improving the competitiveness of our farm and agri-food businesses, including up to £220million for a Farm Business Improvement Scheme.
2) Up to £249 million for protecting and enhancing our natural environment, including £100 million for an Environmental Farming Scheme.
3) £80 million for broader rural development measures, including £70 million of support delivered through Local Action Groups.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has also welcomed the formal approval of the new RDP.
“The new RDP is of vital importance to the farming and rural community and offers an ideal opportunity to help drive for further advances of the agri-food industry and to support the ‘Going for Growth’ strategy,” said UFU president Ian Marshall.
“Now that we finally have approval from Brussels, it’s important DARD ensures a smooth delivery of this programme. It is vital that the various strategic measures are opened as soon as possible and targeted to allow farmers and rural communities to benefit from these schemes.”
Chairman of the Agri-Food Strategy Board Tony O’Neill has also welcomed this week’s news regarding the approval of the new RDP by Brussels.
Mr O’Neill said: “This is another hugely important stage in the implementation of measures to ensure the long-term competitiveness and profitable growth of agri-food, Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturing industry.
“RDP approval was one of the main planks in the board’s comprehensive Going for Growth strategic action plan to improve productivity and efficiency on farms and to accelerate growth in exports through greater innovation, efficiency improvements, higher skill levels and enhanced employment opportunities.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson commented: “The programme plays an important role supporting our farm businesses, the wider agri-food industry, countryside and rural communities. It is now important that the various schemes within the programme are rolled out as quickly and effectively as possible so that the benefits can be felt on the ground.”