UFU wants DARD to define an ‘active farmer’
Ulster Farmers’ Union policy director Wesley Aston has told AgriLand that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) must come forward with a legally binding definition of what constitutes an active farmer when it comes to enshrining the new CAP support measures in national legislation next year.
“This is a fundamental priority moving forward,” he added.
“There is a very general definition of the term encapsulated within the overarching EU legal framework that is now being put in place. However, that will not meet the needs of farmers actually on the ground here in Northern Ireland. We have already approached DARD n this subject. And the good news is that there may well be sufficient flexibility to allow the Department met our request.
Wesley made these comments in the wake of the Union officially agreeing its position on how the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) should be implemented in Northern Ireland.
UFU President Harry Sinclair said:
“For weeks now our members have been poring over the DARD consultation document and discussing it at great lengths. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) plays a vital role in agriculture and in the wider Northern Ireland economy. It allows farmers to produce affordable food, look after the countryside, create jobs, and maintain rural communities, which is why it is important we get the implementation right.”
Active farming, transition, regionalisation, coupling, areas of natural constraint (ANCs), transferring money between Pillars, greening and young farmers have been the hot topics for discussion over the last few weeks.
Harry Sinclair continued:
“The EU Commission has been clear from the outset that direct payments must be targeted at ‘active farmers’ and the UFU Executive has endorsed this. The onus now is on DARD to communicate what this actually means to ensure that farmers and landowners are properly informed and have enough time to plan for the start of the new CAP. In their consultation DARD has also proposed a 50% transition for the first five years (10% per year) and since we have consistently called for a long and smooth transition this is something our Executive was quick to support.
“In terms of regionalisation, the Union’s Executive has agreed that a two region model – SDA and other – is the fairest way to deliver the minimum of redistribution between farmers. The DARD proposed single Northern Ireland region would mean that DA cattle and sheep, lowland cattle and sheep, all dairy and mixed farm types would experience significant reductions in Single Farm Payment (SFP) support. While the two region model still provides for significant payment increases to SDA sheep producers, UFU Executive did however recognise the impact that this would have on suckler cow producers in the existing SDA region. Indeed, the more widespread vulnerability of the suckler cow sector across Northern Ireland as a whole was very clearly identified by the Union’s Executive as a key issue which needs to be addressed. While the Executive did not support the introduction of coupled payments for suckler cows it did agree that some form of a scheme needs to be devised to maintain the viability of this crucial sector, preferably targeted towards supporting the efficient production of quality cattle. The UFU has stressed that it would be necessary for additional funding to be made available from other sources such as the NI Executive, which will soon be responding to the NI Agri-food Strategy Board recommendations, or the next NI Rural Development Programme.
“Everyone is aware that as part of the CAP reform our existing Less Favoured Areas (LFA) are being re-designated and a new scheme is being introduced. While we would prefer to see the existing scheme stay as is, the Executive recognised the EU driven change and supported the creation of an Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme. However, the Executive believes this scheme should continue in Pillar 2 and be fully match funded not merged into Pillar 1 as proposed by DARD. Merging it into Pillar 1 would result in a significant reduction in scheme funding and would also provide no opportunity for transitionary support for those who would in future be excluded from what will be in effect an SDA focussed scheme.
“Against the background of proposing the continuation of future ANC support and some form of support scheme for suckler cow producers within our next Rural Development Programme, the Union’s Executive has acknowledged that this will most probably necessitate the transfer of some funding from Single Farm Payments. The inclusion of a ‘greening’ requirement within direct support should however greatly reduce the need for a separate sizeable agri-environment scheme in the future. We therefore would expect that the level of direct support money transferred from Pillar 1 should be less than the 9% which, up to this year, had been transferred via voluntary modulation. It is also absolutely essential that any money transferred is only targeted at schemes specifically for active farmers and is match-funded by Government.
“The UFU fully supports a young farmers’ scheme, although more discussion needs to be had around the practical details of such a scheme. We have also agreed that there is no need to implement either a ‘Small Farmers’ Scheme’ or a ‘Redistributive Scheme’ as the transition to a flat rate payment will take care of this. Also, the UFU Executive agreed to support DARD’s proposals on land eligibility and rebasing of entitlements in 2015. We have come a long way in terms of the greening proposals and for the most part many farmers in Northern Ireland will be exempt from additional greening measures. The UFU Executive agreed to support DARD’s greening proposals, however, discussions continue between our arable committees and DARD to get greater clarity as to what the additional greening measures may mean for some of our larger arable farmers, with the emphasis being on maximising the use of existing landscape features. The UFU also remains fundamentally opposed to the capping of individual payments, which DARD is proposing.”
Harry Sinclair concluded:
“Progress has steadily been made since June when a political agreement at an EU level on the new CAP was reached and we need to continue to press on to ensure the necessary elements are in place to allow for smooth implementation come 2015. It has been an intense few weeks but the position of farmers is clear and it is my hope that Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and her Department will take on board the UFU’s considered view and implement the new CAP accordingly.”