Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell, says new funding must be made available to extend the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme that DARD has forecast will end next year.
“Payments targeted towards those actively farming in severely disadvantaged areas (SDA) have been an important income support mechanism for many years whilst also delivering benefits to the environment and wider rural society,” said Mr Bell.
He added that farming in these areas presents ‘real difficulties’ with constraints on profitability from challenging weather, soil and maintaining landscape conditions.
“With the ANC scheme currently forecast to conclude in 2017 and with many agri-environment scheme agreements now completed this has hit upland farm incomes.
“To date, the reduction in income due to the conclusion of these agri-environment agreements is something DARD has failed to acknowledge and with uncertainty around the new agri-environment scheme, this has made decisions on the future of ANCs more complicated than they needed to be,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU says that in its response to the DARD consultation on future ANC support it rejected suggestions that pillar one of the CAP could deliver the necessary support. “Continued aid to severely disadvantaged areas is important, and we believe DARD must seek new funding to make this happen,” said Mr Bell.
Without this new funding the UFU believes the viability of farm businesses in the SDA will be at risk.
“This would have knock on effects for biodiversity in upland areas that benefit greatly from livestock grazing. There is also a risk that some land will be abandoned. This does not fit with government objectives to grow the agri-food economy, the tourism industry and enhance the environment,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU has also raised concerns about the direction DARD has taken with the designation of the new areas of natural constraint map that will replace existing SDA map in January 2018.
Mr Bell said the maps DARD has drafted leave out big areas of severely disadvantaged land.