Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson, Harold McKee MLA, has warned the Agriculture Minister from taking Pillar I funds to pay for the continuation of the ANC scheme.
The South Down MLA said: “Farmers in constrained areas face the challenge of additional costs and income forgone compared to those in other areas. I was glad that this was recognised through the creation of the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) Scheme in the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme. The ANC scheme replaced the Less Favoured Areas Compensatory Allowances Scheme (LFACA) and is something that needs to continue in order to support our farming communities.
“Funds were allocated to the ANC scheme for 2016 and 2017 and now as future options are being considered there is a significant push for the ANC scheme to now be funded through the redistribution of funds from Pillar I and away from farmers’ basic payments. That is something my party is wholly opposed to and we call on the minister not to pursue that option.
“All sectors of agriculture have been facing considerable challenges in recent months. Factors such as market volatility, the weak euro and the Russian trade embargo have had an impact on prices and cash flow throughout the industry.
“Northern Ireland’s farmers and growers have also had to contend with the implementation of a complex new CAP which has itself involved a number of challenges - not least the continuing transition to a flat rate basic payment. we recognise the impact of this on individual farm businesses and the industry as a whole.”
“A key issue in this is the ANC designation, this forms the foundation of any future scheme by identifying which land is eligible should funding be secured for a scheme in the future. I am concerned that the draft maps prepared by DAERA do not fully capture constrained land in many areas of Northern Ireland with 20% of the existing SDA not included.
“My Ulster Unionist colleague Jim Nicholson MEP has raised local farmers’ concerns with relevant officials in Brussels. This process of mapping Areas of Natural Constraint is taking place EU-wide, DAERA must fully utilise all the flexibility that exists to ensure that the final map reflects the reality facing Northern Ireland’s farmers on the ground in relation to natural constraint.
“There is some time remaining before the finalised maps must be submitted to the European Commission, there is therefore an opportunity for further work to be carried out to ensure the designation is accurate and robust, in short we must get this right.”