O’Neill hails deal as ‘positive development’

Minister Michelle O'Neill pictured with UFU president Harry Sinclair in Luxembourg
Minister Michelle O'Neill pictured with UFU president Harry Sinclair in Luxembourg

Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has hailed this week’s CAP Reform agreement as a positive development for agriculture in Northern Ireland.

Speaking exclusively to Farming Life she said: “Yes, it is undoubtedly a good deal for the farming industry. A large number of my concerns with the original Commission proposals have been addressed. The pace of change required under internal convergence to flat rate payments is much reduced. The requirement to move 40% of the way in the first year has been removed, the greening payment can be made on a historic basis and the minimum requirement is that payments reach 60% of the regional average by 2019. This will mean that the minimum change required by 2019 is to move about half way towards a flat rate payment compared to the position at present, which is consistent with my view that 10 years is the time period need to achieve flat rate payments.

“I have achieved exemptions from greening for predominantly grassland farms, thresholds for crop diversification and ecological focus areas have been increased and permanent grassland levels will be monitored at regional level instead of individual farm level in the first instance. These changes will simplify what have been originally proposed and will ensure that those who grow small areas of crops on predominantly grassland farms will not face additional requirements. Regional flexibility has also been secured and in some aspects enhanced so that we will be able to take our own decisions on those parts of the CAP Reform agreement where discretion has been given to Member States.”

Looking to the future, Michelle O’Neill added: “As to the next stage, further work is needed in Brussels to produce and agree the legal text which will clarify the detail. If the meantime my Department will be undertaking some analysis with a view to undertaking a consultation on those areas of the agreement where a significant policy decision is required such as the pace and mechanism used to progress towards a flat rate payment, whether to have coupled payments and the operation of the regional reserve etc. It is anticipated that the consultation will take place in the autumn and there will be an intense engagement with stakeholders. Where possible, I will be looking to achieve a general consensus on the way ahead on what will be difficult issues.”

She concluded: “The allocation of budget shares at regional level with be decided by agriculture ministers in the coming months and I will be strongly defending our historic allocation. In my view this is fair to all regions it broadly reflects each region’s current share of agricultural output and productive capacity.”