‘Massive changes afoot’ for Mid Ulster farmers

Minister O'Neill opens a CAP reform meeting with farmers
Minister O'Neill opens a CAP reform meeting with farmers

Over a hundred farmers gathered at Clonoe Community Centre to hear what Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill had to say about the incoming CAP reforms.

The move, which has been imposed on the Department of Agriculture directly from Europe, will see single farm payments replaced by three separate payments - a basic payment, a greening payment and young farmers’ payment.

Following an introduction from Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy and Minister O’Neill, DARD official Paul Clenehan presented the changes, which some at the meeting said were very “complicated”.

Speaking about what’s coming, Minister O’Neill said: “There’s massive changes afoot because of the EU change to the law on how you pay single farm payment.

“Tonight is one of a series of meetings. There’s a need to get as much information out there and [provide] clarity for farmers, so they can make the best decisions for their business.”

Questions at the January 22 event centred around young farmers’ payment, land entitlements, boundaries and how they impact payments.

While William Taylor from Farmers for Action raised concerns about a number of young farmers, whom he said will miss out on Young Farmers’ Payment because of the year they started operating.

One local farmer, who didn’t want to be named, said he found the meeting very informative but that the reforms bring with them “a lot of issues - one of them being the definition of on an active farmer”.

He said the changes have also thrown up questions on entitlements - which could cause problems for landlords and renting farmers.

“I see support moving away from intensive farmers that were producing beef, sheep and milk,” he told the Times.

“Intensive farmers will see their income drop dramatically [while] landlords with huge areas of less productive land will see their income increase.” - A situation that he has called “unsustainable”.

He also commended DARD officials on their willingness to talk to farmers face-to-face afterwards, which he said was needed as “everybody has a lot individual issues”.

Going forward farmers must declare their entire holding, including land taken in conacre (let), and only an active farmer will have the right to establish entitlements and receive payments for it.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “There will be winners and losers in relation to the amount of direct support received by individual farm business under the changes that are being introduced this year. The extent of this is very much driven by individual circumstances.

“Over a period of seven years starting this year, the level of support per hectare will move towards a common rate for all farmers.

“DARD is working hard to ensure that as far as possible, agricultural support is directed towards active farmers.

“We have already seen some 7,000 non-farming landowners exit the CAP support system in 2014. More are expected to exit this year.

“The Young Farmers’ Payment is designed to assist succession in farming. The payment will provide additional support during those early years when a young farmer takes over the running of a business. Once the young farmer has been established as head of holding for five years, the support is no longer payable.”