Hogan’s aid package should be welcomed

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Crisis: what crisis? I sense this will be the general response from local consumers given the truly underwhelming welcome from the farming industry to the agri aid package announced in Brussels earlier this week.

That I am aware of, it’s not every day of the week that agriculture gets a multi-million pound boost without strings attached. So when opportunities of this nature do come along, surely the least we can do is say thank you and have a broad smile on our faces as we utter these words.

In my opinion, the package ticks three key boxes. In the first instance it provides a means by which EU dairy farmers will be compensated for milk they do not produce. This approach should act to put money in producers’ pockets while helping to strengthen market returns. Given current circumstances, I believe this to be a win:win scenario.

In addition, the proposed scheme will allow individual member states to make support available to a number of sectors – not just dairy. And finally, the funding required to make the various initiatives work represents new money. It is not a case of the EU Commission drawing down funds from its emergency resources. As a result, there will be no reduction in the overall pot of money set aside in Brussels for direct farmer payments. I know this was a key concern being expressed by a number of lobby groups prior to this week’s announcement being made.

Farm Minister McIlveen has highlighted the scope that she now has to pay a 70% advance on the 2016 Single Payment in October. And this is another good news story emanating from the Brussels’ package.

But what I do not get is the line from the UFU to the effect that the implementation of the Hogan deal will mean very little at individual farm level. In my opinion there is plenty that we here in Northern Ireland can derive from the proposed schemes. To a large extent this will be down to the willingness of London to cough up additional national funding. This is a further aspect to the new aid package which, no doubt, quite a number of EU member states will want to activate. And, as for the dairy sector, if the measure proposed does anything at all to improve market sentiment, then it will be money well spent.

Other commentators have said parts of the Hogan package could be quite complicated to implement. But surely it will only be as intricate as we here in Northern Ireland want it to be.