UFU calls for capital assistance priority for young farmers

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union is backing the prioritisation of capital aid for all young farmers.

It believes this will ensure existing progressive young farmers are not discriminated against.

“The approach agreed by the European Commission for enhanced aid for young farmers brought problems,” said UFU president Ian Marshall “Top of the list was that established young farmers that had taken steps more than five years ago to sort out succession and business ownership found that they were ineligible for support. We have always believed this was wrong.”

In lengthy discussions on the Farm Business Investment Scheme (FBIS) the UFU executive looked at various options to give a higher grant aid to young farmers. Its final decision was to back a 40 per cent grant rate for all farmers but crucially with the selection criteria weighted in favour of all applicants under the age of 40.

“This is clearly not a solution with which everyone will agree,” admitted Mr Marshall. “But it is a balanced position that does tackle the anomaly of young established farmers denied aid because of past business decisions that made sound sense at the time.” This is because young farmers that were head of holding-in charge of the business for five years or more are ineligible for top-up aid under the European Commission definition.

Mr Marshall said the UFU believed its solution was fair given the limitations on the scheme imposed by Brussels. “We recognise that the decisions taken by the European Commission were flawed and we have been, and will be pressing, for this to be looked at again as part of the mid-term review of the CAP in 2017.

“The UFU is keen to see a decision made on the FBIS as soon as possible. By taking a position on this part of the programme it believes this will allow discussions to take place with DARD, ahead of final European Commission approval of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme. “Our aim is to see the various measures in the FBIS rolled out as quickly as possible,” said Mr Marshall.

Meanwhile, the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee has reviewed the Farm Business Investment Scheme proposals and are strongly supportive of 50% Grand Aid for those under the European definition of a ‘Young Farmer’ which directly relates to those within the Young Farmers Scheme. Eligibility for the Young Farmers Scheme includes three main areas - five years and under as head of holding, level two qualification and under the age of 40. All other grant rates will be at 40% however this will weigh in favour of those under the age of 40.

Cathy Knowles, YFCU Chair of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, said: “With young farmers in many other parts of Europe benefiting from 60% Grant Aid any further dilution to a flat 40% would be unfair at a time when the department stated position is to reduce the average age of the Head of Holding.”

The YFCU is keen to see a decision on the Farm Business Investment Scheme as soon as possible and are happy to discuss this position with DARD.