DARD need to give clarity on CAP reform: Dodds

Chair of the Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA, DUP MEP Diane Dodds, Pauline Rooney DARD, Paul Clenaghan DARD, Dr William McCrea MP and Paul Girvan MLA.
Chair of the Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA, DUP MEP Diane Dodds, Pauline Rooney DARD, Paul Clenaghan DARD, Dr William McCrea MP and Paul Girvan MLA.

Following her CAP Roadshow events this week DUP MEP Diane Dodds has said that many questions remain unanswered by DARD.

She also highlighted the urgent need for greater levels of clarity in order to make decision making more informed as farmers face the task of completing their Single Applications Forms.

Meetings were held in the Hilton Templepatrick and the Seagoe, Portadown, co-hosted by Dr William McCrea MP and Mr David Simpson MP.

Almost 400 farmers were in attendance.

At each of the sessions, Mrs Dodds was joined by DARD officials who outlined some of the detail around how the new CAP will be implemented in Northern Ireland.

Speaking after the week of CAP meetings, Mrs Dodds said: “As I continue to have these CAP meetings across the Province it is clear that many farmers are frustrated at lack of clarity on specific issues around the practicalities of the definition of an active farmer, under declaration of field eligible areas, greening, young farmer and new entrant.

“DARD are certainly giving the overview of the policy, but when it comes to the detail and how it works on a practical level some of the answers are vague or too much down to interpretation. Unfortunately many farmers are all too aware of the dangers around interpretation and the penalties which can be incurred.

“We need DARD to be more specific in their responses and I would urge farmers to contact DARD officials directly to talk through the issues facing their own business. Now is the time to do this and by doing so hopefully there will be less risk of penalties and dual claims etc.

“Over the course of these meetings it is clear that DARD are focused more and more on the eligibility of the person claiming funding going forward. Whether, this is for an active farmer, young farmer or those hoping to avail of the regional reserve. A focus has been placed on controls, inspections and ensuring people are not creating artificial conditions to avail of funding.”

Speaking after the CAP meeting in Templepatrick, Dr McCrea MP added: “It is clear that farmers have not had the adequate amount of time to get to grips with the implementation of this new CAP.

“DARD is only now getting guidance and information out to farmers after months and months of deliberation, obfuscation and passing the buck to the European Commission. What I find difficult to understand is how farmers are expected to take all this new information on board, assess what is in their best interests and make the right decisions in a number of weeks, and of course the implications of getting it wrong for a farmer will impact on his livelihood.”

He added: “I believe this meeting was important to highlight changes in the scheme but DARD must have the support in place to assist farmers going forward.”

Speaking after the CAP meeting in Portadown, Mr David Simpson MP said: “The CAP is much more than direct support and that is why at this meeting we reinforced the need for farmers to be aware of the upcoming funding through the Rural Development Programme.

“For the first time in many years we have the opportunity to have a real and meaningful capital grant scheme, something which was supported and driven by the DUP on the back of a recommendation given by the Agri-food Strategy Board. Currently there is a whole farm needs assessment encouraging farmers to highlight the needs of their business and what would be beneficial for their business going forward.

“To ensure this scheme is applicable to farmers needs I would encourage farmers to access the assessment online and fill in the form which is relatively short.”

The form can be found at http://www.dardni.gov.uk/index/rural-development/rdp/whole-farm-needs-assessment.htm