The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the extension of the reduced RHI tariff rates for a further 12 months is unfair to farmers who did not create the crisis the RHI scheme became.
It says they are being made scapegoats for the failures of others. Instead of taking the easy option of sticking with reduced tariffs, it says Department of Economy (DfE) officials need to launch a promised consultation now on more sustainable long-term tariffs. UFU concerns were raised by confirmation that legislation to extend the reduced tariffs has been drafted.
“This has already put a number of farm businesses, particularly in the poultry sector, under severe financial pressure. We have heard reports of farmers having to sell land, extend overdrafts or take out additional loans just to remain in business. Banks have been understanding, but there is no guarantee this will continue. The situation is serious and not sustainable. By extending reduced tariffs the government is jeopardising the viability of many businesses and the mental and physical health of farmers,” says UFU chief executive, Wesley Aston.
The UFU said many poultry farm businesses installed boilers in good faith following encouragement from government departments, politicians and processors. The aim was to deliver a greener industry and final product, by reducing fossil fuel use and improving animal welfare standards.
Mr Aston says farmers made significant investments and have on-going costs for maintenance and fuel. “Bills still need to be paid. These farmers now have to find at least £1000 a boiler extra per month to remain in business. Compounding this financial pressure is the fact that the cost of wood pellets has increased by 20 per cent in recent months,” he added.
The UFU says the department has a duty of care to the public, including the farmers who entered into the RHI scheme.
“Farmers didn’t design the scheme. Yet they are paying the price for failures of civil servants. This is unacceptable,” says Mr Aston.