The Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt led a UFU delegation to meet with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to discuss concerns around the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) and Natura 2000 Conservation Management plans.
Mr Chestnutt said: “We highlighted concerns around difficulties for farmers meeting some of the deadlines stipulated within the EFS scheme for completing works such as fencing, dry stone walls and scrub control.
“On farms with wider agreements, weather, ground conditions and the availability of fencing contractors to carry out work will make the deadlines set in some contracts extremely challenging. With higher agreements not yet issued by the Department, it will be even more difficult to meet the deadlines specified in some of the options and this is of no fault of the farmers.”
Mr Chestnutt continued: “We have asked DAERA to seriously consider introducing a mechanism to allow farmers on wider and higher schemes some flexibility on the various deadlines to ensure the environmental works are completed, but within a practical timescale.”
At the meeting, farmers clearly showed that they are keen and interested in being involved in schemes that work for both farmers and the environment, but are frustrated.
“We also outlined to DAERA that the cap set for the wider scheme based on land area frustrated many farmers. Farmers believed that they would have the opportunity to obtain the £20,000 wider scheme maximum but on application the on farm limits were usually much lower than this. Many farmers were considering doing additional works on their farm but were unable to due to the cap based on their land area. This must be reconsidered and DAERA should consider permitting those who are already in contracts, to undertake additional works if they wish. This would help to ensure more environmental funding gets out to local farmers and more environmental works are carried out,” says the UFU deputy president.
The deputy president added there are also challenges for farmers in relation to the Natura 2000 Conservation Management Plans.
“The UFU have raised concerns about the complete lack of clarity on what outcomes the NIEA want to see in the proposed Conservation Management Plans for the relevant habitats and whether NIEA will truly take into account the farmers’ views after they have gone through the stakeholder consultation process. Farmers will need clarity on NIEA’s intentions before this project can move any further,” says Mr Chestnutt.
Further meetings are planned and the UFU will continue to raise these issues with DAERA and NIEA.