SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has argued that delays in the Basic Payment Scheme (previously Single Farm Payments) due to on-going inspections will cause substantial problems for farmers already under financial pressure from low farm gate prices.
He said: “I have received numerous inquiries from concerned farmers who have been told that their Basic Payments could be delayed until as late as March to allow for DARD inspections to be completed. This will cause massive problems for farmers already facing financial crisis. Two years ago in 2013 parts of south Derry and south-west Antrim had an inspection blitz, and money was withheld until the spring of 2014 with all the consequential financial hardship. It will simply be impossible to sustain that level of loss this time.
“The reality for our farmers is that they are now heavily dependent on this subsidy. The rock bottom price they are currently offered for their produce is unsustainable and has brought a number of small farms to a hand to mouth existence. Farming is a fundamental element of our economy and the loss of local farms will have a knock on effect for a number of industries, especially of course in the agri-foods sector.
“Regular checks are a part of any functional funding scheme and it is right that the EU holds them as a requirement to ensure that essential resources are not misappropriated. However, DARD must ensure that payment delays due to these spot checks does not turn a farming crisis into a catastrophe. I have already referred a number of cases to the Minister for her urgent attention, and I call upon the Minister to address this matter as an absolute priority.”