Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that more farmers than in 2012 will receive single farm payments (SFP) in December 2013.

The minister also pointed out that the first payments should reach farmer accounts by 6 December and added: “I aim to finalise around 85 per cent of the 37,600 claims submitted to the 2013 scheme in December, which amounts to £213m in payments made. In real terms this means that more than 700 additional farmers will be paid in December than last year – making a real difference to cash flows. I expect a total of 95 per cent of payments to be made by the end of February 2014,” she explained

Referring to the work carried out to upgrade the arrangements for finalising inspected cases the minister said: “I am pleased to say that the improvement measures I introduced this year will result in more inspected cases being paid in the first three months of the payment window than was possible in the first five months last year. The objective is to finalise the majority of inspections by the end of February 2014 and all inspections, other than those that are held up by other issues, by the end of April 2014.”

Highlighting the Department of Agriculture’s ambitions for the future, the minister explained: “I want to ensure that far more farmers receive their SFP in December, including inspection cases, and farmers can help us achieve that by submitting their claims online. In order to stimulate more farmers and agents to go online, I will commit to making 90 per cent of payments in December 2014, if the proportion of claims submitted online goes up to 40 per cent in 2014. I would strongly encourage farmers to go online themselves or ask their agent or form filler to go online. It’s a good way to avoid mistakes compared with paper and crucially it will speed up payments to farmers overall.”

In conclusion Minister O’Neill said: “This is good news for farmers at the end of a tough 2013. If we get the support of farmers for increased online claims next year, we can do much better again. I want to work closely with the farmers unions in the run-up to May 2014 to see if we can together make it happen.”

Reacting to this announcement Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) policy director Wesley Aston told AgriLand that the commitment by the minister to increase the number of farmers receiving SFPs allocations in December would represent a significant cash flow boost for agriculture in Northern Ireland.

“We had hoped this figure might have been higher, possibly up to 90 per cent, particularly as farmers in most other EU regions of the EU availed of an advance SFP back in October.

“However, we fully recognise that the minister has also committed to shortening the farm inspection period in 2014. This will certainly help the cause of those producers involved in these processes,” he added.

Commenting on this announcement and the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform funding arrangements recently secured for Northern Ireland by  Minister O’Neill, Eoin Donnelly, agri-business manager at First Trust Bank said: “Both of these developments represent welcome news for Northern Ireland farmers. They bring further confidence to the industry and represent the first steps in providing individual farmers with the certainty they need to plan and invest for the future.

“When we speak to our farming customers they continually stress the importance of CAP, as it is a key component of farm business income and cash flow. We cannot understate the importance of getting these matters right for the Northern Ireland Agriculture industry, which employs more than 47,500 people.”

 Pictured Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill