The new GLAS programme will not improve the financial viability of Ireland’s most disadvantaged farmers, according to Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Martin Ferris.

“The maximum amount of money available per farm is €7,000, and that’s for GLAS plus. More likely, farmers will receive the maximum €5,000 on offer through the standard GLAS programme.

“This level of funding will do little to increase the sustainability of hard pressed Irish farm families.”

Ferris confirmed that agriculture and rural affairs will be debated extensively at the weekend’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Derry.

“I am concerned that the ending of milk quotas will have a negative impact on the viability of our smallest dairy farms,” he said.

“There has been a lot of positive spin put on the opportunities that will present themselves to dairy farmers once quotas go. But all of this seems to hinge on expansion. This will require significant investment on the part of farmers, which they must repay over the coming years.

“For this to be feasible the banks must keep to their word and deal with farmers on an equitable basis.

“Milk prices may well come under pressure over the coming years. And within such a scenario the real losers will be small family farms. My concern is that Ireland’s dairy industry could follow in the same footsteps as its New Zealand counterpart.

“Literally, thousands of small milk producers went to the wall in that country when the expansion button was pushed a number of years ago.”

Ferris welcomed the breakthroughs secured in opening up both the US and Chinese markets to Irish beef.

“China has genuine potential as an important market outlet for our beef,” he said.

“But I am not sure about the real value of the American market for the beef industry. My gut feel is that it will turn out to be nothing more that a niche outlet for organic product.”