DARD opts for the simplest possible set of CAP Reform options

The View from Northern Ireland: The Department of Agricultural Rural Development’s (DARD) head of policy division Norman Fulton has told Agriland that the it is opting for the simple set of CAP Reform options.

Consultation document published recently, regarding the detailed implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), represents the most straightforward set of policy options that can be implemented for Northern Ireland, in the context of the very complicated and complex strategy framework agreed in Brussels on June 26th this year.

The document looks specifically at the implementation of Pillar 1 funding measures beyond January 1st 2015. However, given that DARD is looking at the possibility of addressing future ANC – previously referred to as the Less favoured Areas – support policies within Pillar 1, this core issue will also be included in the consultation process.

All stakeholder groups and interested parties have until January 17th to next to register their views on these matters, which will have a more than a significant impact on the farming industry up to 2020.

“Yes, there are lots of options available to us,” Fulton added. “What we have tried to do is distil out those that are most workable for local farmers.”

Significantly DARD has opted for a minimal land area requirement of five hectares.

“We are fundamentally committed to finding ways of supporting active food producers in the most effective ways possible,” Fulton continued.

“This brings into sharp focus the issue of how best to define the term ‘active farmer’. But we cannot do this at local level. It’s up to the Commission in Brussels to set out their views on this matter courtesy of the enacting legislation that will be implemented at an EU level. A DARD delegation discussed this issue in great deal with Farm Commissioner Cioloº and his advisory team in Brussels a couple of weeks ago.

“The get-together allowed us to relate the specific structural differences that set Northern Ireland apart for the other farming industries in the rest of Europe. Chief among these is the widespread use of our conacre land letting system. As a consequence, I can confirm that the Commission is now giving detailed consideration to the feasibility of including an ‘active farmer’ definition within their own CAP reform implementing regulations.

“In terms of getting some form of definitive view from Brussles on this matter, we are talking weeks rather than months. Obviously, we will include any developments on this subject into the mix for discussion and debate during our own CAP consultation process.”

Fulton went on to point out that a separate consultation paper on the future support options for the ANC will be published in November.

“Again we will be providing options for industry stakeholders to consider,” he further explained.

Significantly, the consultation document published this week gives no firm recommendations regarding the feasibility of re-coupling payments for the suckler cow and breeding sheep sectors.

Fultion again: “What we have done is provided analysis of how recoupling might impact on the local livestock sectors, given the experiences of those regions in the UK which did and did not take this option post the implementation of the Fischler reforms in 2005.

“But it is interesting to note that, in Scotland, suckler numbers have declined significantly over the past eight years. I am aware that the redmeat industry here in Northern Ireland is calling for the introduction of headage payments as a means of protecting the ‘quality beef and lamb’ sectors. However, Scotland is the only region to have gone down the re-coupling route!”

Fulton concluded: “It is important that the CAP reform options are assessed in detail over the coming weeks. With this in mind DARD will be hosting a conference on this subject next month, to which all stakeholder groups will be invited.”