John McCallister, the man in charge of Northern Ireland’s Land Mobility Programme, has confirmed that demand for the new service continues to grow.
“The database now extends to 170 people,” he said.
“This is split equally between older farmers and landowners wishing to enter new, longer-term business arrangements and those younger people wishing to develop a career within production agriculture.
McCallister continued: “We have also managed to complete 10 new farm business agreements, spread equally between the dairy and livestock sectors.
“These new arrangements comprise a mix of share farming, contract heifer rearing, farm partnership and leasing arrangements. All have been driven by the need to have sensible succession arrangements put in place, where the existing farm businesses are concerned.
“One of the most limiting factors that has come to light over recent months is not that of getting general agreement reached between two interested parties but rather the challenge of getting younger people, particularly those with young families, to move to different parts of Northern Ireland.”
Funded by DAERA, the Land Mobility Programme is managed by the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) with the support of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).
Mr McCallister added: “We have gotten off to the best possible start.
“But we now have to build on this. And, in practical terms, this means getting increasing numbers of people to sign up to new business arrangements that will make a real difference when it comes to improving land use here in Northern Ireland.
“There is universal support for the principles espoused by land mobility. But it’s now time to put a real focus on the hurdles that stand in the way of turning this potential into reality.”
One of these, according to McCallister, is the strong belief held by large numbers of farmers that moving away from the tradition of conacre letting agreements will, in some way, render land ineligible for Agricultural Property Relief (APR).
“This is an absolute myth and it’s one that we need to de-bunk immediately,” he explained.
“Land will always remain eligible for APR, as long as it is used for agricultural purposes. Moreover, this is a message that must be communicated in the strongest possible terms to the many accountants and solicitors in Northern Ireland with farmer-clients.”
YFCU President James Speers congratulated John McCallister on the success that he has achieved over the last few months.
“We were fully aware from the outset that it would take time for the new programme to build momentum,” he said.
“However, a tremendous amount of hard work has been put in by John since last autumn. And, no doubt, this will generate a very health payback during the period ahead.”
UFU Policy and Technical Manager James McCluggage confirmed that the Land Mobility Programme has a crucial role to play at the very heart of the farming industry In Northern Ireland.
“We are expecting a White Paper for agriculture to be published by the government at Westminster in the very near future,” he said.
“Hopefully, the proposed policies detailed within it will allow the programme to have an even greater impact at farm level as we look to the future.”