Farm aid package from Europe is broadly welcomed

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th May 2016 - ''New DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th May 2016 - ''New DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

There has been a general welcome for the farm aid package, announced by EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels on Monday.

While all the details have yet to be finalised, the measure will see a total of €500m made available across a number of schemes, including €150m to fund a voluntary milk output reduction initiative across the EU. Provision has also been made to allow individual member states pay a 70% advance on the 2016 Single Payment in October.

Commenting on these developments UFU president Barclay Bell said that the new measures are positive in nature, but cautioned that more detail will be required.

“The UK is set to get just over €30 million, which is slightly lower in Euro terms than our allocation from the separate similar EU aid package last September, that can be given as targeted aid to EU milk and other livestock farmers,” said Mr Bell.

“While this is welcome news, there is still very little detail and we need clarification as to how these schemes will work in practice.

“However, spread across 28 member states it is likely that this, while welcome, will mean little at individual farm level. The proposed measures will certainly not solve all the problems farmers face. The further extension of EU dairy product intervention and private storage aid and updating EU support for the withdrawal of fruit and vegetables will also be beneficial.”

However Mr Bell believes the decision to allow a 70% advance on the 2016 Single Payment is extremely significant.

“More helpful to farmers generally however will be the announcement by our minister that Northern Ireland will take up the now agreed EU option to pay 70% of the direct payments which can be paid from 16 October. This increase from 50% is something which the UFU has pursued since our minister’s announcement at the beginning of July that advanced payments would be made.

“Also, the weakening of Sterling against the Euro is likely to provide increased producer prices here, over the coming months as well as deliver on a significant beneficial Sterling/Euro exchange rate for direct payments when it is set this September.”

He concluded: “The EU farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, deserves credit for battling to secure funding for this aid package against very difficult prevailing economic conditions within the European Union. Now that the announcement has been made, we want to see the details fleshed out urgently and we will be pressing to have this money delivered to farmers as quickly as possible whenever funding comes from Brussels.”

Northern Ireland’s farm minister Michelle McIlveen was in Brussels for Monday’s announcement. She welcomed the Commission proposal to allow up to 70% advance for direct support payments to farmers, adding:

“The Northern Ireland agri-food sector is the backbone of the local economy. In my meetings with Commissioner Hogan and DEFRA minister George Eustice, I highlighted the unique and extreme market conditions that continue to affect the sector here. I stressed the need for immediate support from Europe to support our hard-pressed farmers, particularly those in the dairy sector.”

She concluded: “I welcome Commissioner Hogan’s announcement of a further package of measures aimed at addressing the financial difficulties within the agriculture sector. Following today’s announcement my Department will be issuing 70% advance payments from 16 October. I also welcome the announcement in relation to the dairy sector.

“However, I’m disappointed about the complex strings attached to the proposed conditional adjustment aid. This could simply delay getting support out to those farmers who need it most. These proposals are still very vague and I want to consider carefully with DEFRA and my Ministerial counterparts in Scotland and Wales the detail of these measures to determine how they might benefit our farmers. I want to ensure that Northern Ireland receives a significant allocation of the €30 million UK allocation to reflect the particular difficulties facing NI farmers.”