Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that the European Commission have formally approved the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014 – 2020 for Northern Ireland.
European approval for the RDP paves the way for up to £623million in funding to become available for improving farming and agri-food businesses, protecting our environment and supporting rural development projects across the north. It is especially important at present when all sectors of the industry are experiencing difficulty. It will introduce schemes to help farmers improve productivity, contain costs and review their business models.
The Minister said: “This is very positive news, not just for our rural communities, but for everyone in the north of Ireland. The new Rural Development Programme will provide opportunities for our rural communities and farmers alike. I’m confident that every single penny allocated as part of this programme will go towards creating rural jobs, developing our rural infrastructure and investing in the future sustainability of the farming industry. The programme will also provide fantastic cross-border initiatives focusing on tourism and further integrating border communities.
“Today’s approval of our new RDP is the culmination of over three years of work from my Department and our stakeholders beginning in 2012, before the European rural development regulations were agreed. Since then we have been working with our stakeholders across the agriculture, environmental and rural development sectors to develop a balanced programme that meets their needs while helping to support the growth of our rural areas.
“Our engagement with stakeholders included a 16 week consultation period, a series of public information meetings across the north, and the formation of a Stakeholder Consultation Group to further guide Programme development. I am grateful to all the individuals and organisations who participated in this process.
“Over the next few years, we will see hundreds of projects will benefit from this programme which is great news for communities and businesses across the north.”
In July 2014, Executive approval was granted for a Rural Development Programme containing support worth up to £623million, made up of:
· Up to £257million for improving the competitiveness of our farm and agri-food businesses, including up to £220million for a Farm Business Improvement Scheme.
· Up to £249million for protecting and enhancing our natural environment, including £100million for an Environmental Farming Scheme.
· £80million for broader rural development measures, including £70million of support delivered through Local Action Groups.
Looking towards the next steps for the Programme, the Minister said: “I am happy to say that I expect the first phase of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme to get under way later this year, with the establishment of Business Development Groups for farmers.
“It is important for the industry, and particularly now as our farmers face difficult and challenging times, to encourage them to participate in development groups with their peers, facilitated by a dedicated CAFRE adviser. This will help farmers to learn about and enhance their knowledge of business management, new technologies and innovative ways of working, which will assist them to think more clearly about their farm, their income and their future. These groups are part of a bigger package of measures including the Farm Business Investment Scheme which will include a capital programme from next year.
“This is a challenging time for the industry so I want these development groups to enable farmers to think about and acquire the tools that will help them make the right decisions about their businesses, now and in the future.”
The Minister went on to say: “I am also pleased to invite the new Local Action Groups (LAGs) to now submit an interim rural development strategy that my Department will assess to formalise the establishment of the LAGs, and to allocate their budget. This Strategy will link closely with Councils’ Community Plan and the LAGs, working closely with the relevant local Council, will identify the priorities and needs of each area, and set out how the objectives of the Leader Programme will be met.
“I would urge stakeholders, community groups, rural businesses and communities to take part in the forthcoming consultation about the strategies. The Leader Programme will be an important source of funding, and will provide excellent opportunities for the economic and social enhancement of our rural areas. I encourage rural communities and individuals to begin engaging with their local rural networks to consider how this funding can be accessed.”