An advisor to the Northern Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill has confirmed that farmers in the North could receive an advance on their Basic Payment in October, provided at least 70% of producers submit their applications for 2016 online.

“This is the threshold that must be reached: the figure for 2015 was just under 50%,” he said.

Basic Payment advances have never been sanctioned in Northern Ireland. Up to this point, problems linked to the accuracy of the land mapping systems adopted by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have prevented Brussels from green lighting this measure.

The advisor said this was no longer an issue.

“The Minister has been very conscious of the need to improve cash flows on farms. And she has made it perfectly clear to DARD staff that she wants the advance payment matter acted upon, if at all feasible.

Assembly elections take place in May. And there is no guarantee that Michelle O’Neill will be agriculture minister come October. This is why he is making her views known on the matter now.

Interacting with DARD on line is a good news story for farmers across the board.

“In the specific context of the Basic Payment application process, farmers can deal with complex mapping queries quickly and effectively on their computers.

“The alternative of pouring over printed maps is so much more time consuming and tedious.”

The advisor said that problems with rural broadband availability in parts of the north should not prevent the 70% application threshold being breached in 2016.

“There is 92% broadband coverage in the North at the present time. The issue is the poor broadband speeds that prevent many farmers from using the internet as an impotant business tool.

“And this is a problem which Michelle O’Neill has actively addressed, courtesy of the previous and current rural development programmes.

“Farmers with poor broadband access can seek to have their basic payment applications submitted on-line by professional form fillers. Alternatively, they can visit their local library or CAFRE office.”