O’Neill announces technical decisions on CAP Direct Payments

The North’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced a number of technical decisions on the implementation of CAP reform from 2015 and associated direct payments.

The Minister said: “I am very aware that farmers are keen that decisions are taken as soon as possible on the nature of the CAP support framework that will be implemented in the north of Ireland next year.  Having considered carefully the responses to the CAP Pillar I consultation exercise which closed on 17 January 2014, I am today announcing decisions on a number of the more important technical matters which will form part of the overall farm support regime from 1 January 2015.

“First of all, I have decided that all eligible land will be treated equally for the establishment and payment of entitlements under the new Basic Payment Scheme. Therefore, reduction coefficients will not be applied either to grazed heather (which I am confirming as being eligible for support) or to constrained permanent grassland.  Agricultural areas under permanent greenhouses will be eligible for purposes of establishing entitlements.

“I have also decided that the minimum holding size for the purpose of both establishing and claiming support shall be 3ha.  In the consultation document, the Department had suggested a 5ha minimum, but having listened to the views of stakeholders, I’ve decided to bring this back to 3ha, which is the same as the long established minimum claim size under the LFA support scheme.

“In the consultation document, it was also suggested that new entitlements should be allocated to farmers who have never held SFP entitlements but who were involved in agricultural production on 15 May 2013.  There was overwhelming support for this suggestion and so I am today confirming this as my decision on the matter.

“I have taken some of the decisions on the use of the regional reserve and can confirm that it will not be used to allocate entitlements to farmers in order to prevent land abandonment, including in areas subject to restructuring or development programmes relating to a form of public intervention, nor will it be used to allocate entitlements to farmers to compensate them for specific disadvantages.  However, I have decided that the reserve will be used to allocated entitlements to famers who are otherwise unable to be allocated entitlements because of force majeure or exceptional circumstances.”

The Minister continued: “Greening will be an important element of the new support framework and I have made a number of decisions on its implementation in the north.  First of all, I have decided not to use the equivalence option and will instead implement the greening measures as defined in the Basic Regulation, i.e. the retention of permanent grassland, crop diversification and the maintenance of ecological focus areas.

“In line with the strong support expressed by stakeholders, I’ve decided that permanent grassland will be monitored at a regional level, with no restrictions applied at an individual holding level at this stage.  I’ve also decided not to extend the ploughing and conversion ban beyond sensitive permanent grasslands located in areas covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives, though this option will be kept under review.  I’ve decided on the range of options that will be available to farmers to meet their individual ecological focus area obligations, balancing the desire for flexibility with that of simplicity.

“Having considered carefully the views of stakeholders and taking into account my decision on the minimum claim size, together with developments on the active farmer issue under the EU Delegated Act, I’ve decided not to implement the Small Farmer Scheme as I do not believe that it would deliver significant simplification benefits.  Similarly, I’ve decided not to use the optional Redistributive Payment Scheme.

“On the active farmer test, I’ve decided not to extend the scope of the so-called negative list to include additional businesses other than those specified by the Basic Regulation.  In addition, I’ve decided not to use the option to exclude claimants if their agricultural activities form only an insignificant part of their overall economic activities, or if their principal activity or company objects do not consist of exercising an agricultural activity.

Finally, I have decided that a siphon will not be applied to transfers of entitlement without land.”

The Minister concluded: “A summary of these technical decisions is available on the DARD website,  The announcements I have made today will remove some of the uncertainty with ,egards to reform of CAP and move us an important step closer to the overall support package that will operate in the north from next year.”