DUP MEP Diane Dodds has highlighted the challenges facing farm incomes across Northern Ireland, stressing the importance of ensuring that productive agriculture is protected.
She added: “This week many farmers will open yet another letter from DARD, and I am sure they will be wondering what the contents hold for them. Inspection results, cross-compliance penalties, farm discussion group applications or some level of clarification on new entrants, young farmers or active farmer are all distinct possibilities.
“This list can be pretty extensive, however most recently many will have likely received correspondence outlining in a rather complicated manner what the approximate value of their entitlements will be for 2015.
“For many, the enclosed figure will come as a shock, especially given the wide range of deductions that have to be made toward the young farmer scheme, regional reserve, greening, EU financial discipline and allowances for the transition towards a flat rate payment. It will be important to double-check the combined basic payment and greening payment to ensure you get the correct total. However, as previously outlined, those who have been generally more productive and have an entitlement value above the regional average will be adversely impacted as a result of a move towards a flat rate payment. This will ultimately have an impact on the productivity of Northern Ireland agriculture plc.
“Unfortunately, there is a long list of reasons why payments are likely to be reduced but it is important to note this would have been much worse had the DUP not challenged the Sinn Fein Minister Michelle O’Neill on two important points. 1 – a move to a flat rate per hectare payment overnight, and 2 – the proposal to move 7% of funds from direct payments to rural development. As we can see now in practical terms, if the Minister had of got her way, many businesses would simply not exist.
“While many sectors in Northern Ireland are facing crisis point due to farm gate prices, the Minister assures farmers that she is doing all within her power to help and support primary industry, especially in making sure basic payments are made in December. Although this should be a priority, we must not forget that the much-needed cash injection of the basic payment would have been a lot less had the Minister got her way. As an industry we should not underestimate the impact that this would have had if it had proceeded aided and abetted by those who sat on the fence accusing the DUP of playing politics with agriculture.
“In a wider context, as I have outlined before, this new Common Agriculture Policy is much more complicated. It is less focused on productive agriculture while having safety nets which are just not fit for purpose. There will also be a huge pressure on the agriculture budget going forward given the demands from immigration and security.
“Ultimately, the patience of farmers is wearing thin with the European project, and how it is failing agriculture, in addition to the many other policies that are beset with an established lack of value for money.”