Update sought on young farmer scheme

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Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has asked the Minister of Agriculture how much successful young farmer claimants are likely to receive as a top-up to their basic payment.

During Question Time in the Assembly, Mr Nesbitt challenged Michelle O’Neill on how many young farmers applied by the deadline earlier this month for the additional top-up to the basic payment. He also queried what the level of top-up was likely to be.

He added: “On the first question unfortunately she was unable to provide the answer however she did reveal that the uptake of the CAFRE level 2 courses was higher than her Department had anticipated.

“It was only thanks to the intervention of colleagues such as my party’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, that sufficient time was even allowed to process these thousands of applications,” Mr Nesbitt added.

“The Young Farmers Scheme was always going to be popular given the possible significant financial assistance it could offer to many farm businesses right across the country so I do believe the Department made an error in failing to plan properly for it.

“One downside however to the scheme becoming so popular is that the top-up payment may now be at a reduced level compared to what was previously indicated.

“The Department had previously said the top-up payment would be based on 25% of the total direct payments average per hectare; approximately an additional €84 per hectare.”

Responding directly to the question from the Ulster Unionist leader, Michelle O’Neill said: “The Member is right that €84 per hectare was the estimated figure that we thought we would be looking at. However, that was dependent on the numbers that came forward and the numbers that came out of the scheme.

“Until we have the final number, I do not want to give a figure that either raises or lowers expectations of the final payment. As I said, it is dependent on the final number of applications that came forward.”

Mr Nesbitt concluded: “The deadline for applications was over two weeks ago. This scheme has obviously generated significant interest right across the farming community so it is essential that the Minister provides these farmers with some clarity sooner rather than later.

“ I will continue to press the Minister for answers in order to allow successful applicants the ability to plan financially.”