South Down MP urges review of schemes

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SDLP MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs urging a review of the Young Farmers Payment and the Regional Reserve.

Ms Ritchie, a member of the Westminster Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “For years the Northern Ireland Executive and senior officials in the Department of Agriculture have been anxious to encourage young people who grew up on farm holdings to become involved in farm enterprises. This was a view that was promoted and facilitated by the European Union through the Common Agricultural Policy as a need was identified to ensure that the industry was allowed to continue.

“However, a number of young farmers and new entrants feel that the scheme is not fulfilling its objective and, rather, acts as an impediment to young farmers entering the industry. The existing criteria seems to have had the presumably unintended effect of placing additional barriers to farmers under 21, those with farms over 30 miles from their home or whose holdings are over 150 hectares. In some instances, it has been alleged that they could be subjected to unnecessarily difficult interviews with officials, which has prevented them receiving payments.

“The Northern Ireland Executive needs to encourage young people to remain and be sustained in their farming enterprises. I would urge the incoming Northern Ireland Executive to listen, to help and to support young farmers to ensure the future of the industry and not to let administrative burdens consume or diminish the industry. Our local farming industry, young farmers and all those involved in agriculture must be supported and encouraged to remain within the industry.”