Spectre of ‘CAP default’ looms in Northern Ireland

A Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) spokesman has confirmed to AgriLand that failure to agree a comprehensive set of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reforms for Northern Ireland over the coming weeks will, according to EU regulations, constitute a ‘default scenario’,  which could see the introduction of a full flat-rate single farm payment (SFP) in 2015.

“Under these circumstances there will be no transition period to the new measures, specifically where the compulsory and greening components of the new SFP measures are concerned,” the DARD representative continued.

“The implementation of the default mechanisms where young farmers are concerned is slightly more complicated. It must be pointed out, however, that a high proportion of the EU enacting legislation, regarding the new CAP measures, has yet to be fully agreed by the EU authorities. And, here in Northern Ireland, there’s little we can do until Brussels has completed this work.”

In the wake of the recent Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 funding transfer debacle, there is now a growing awareness that the entire Stormont Executive must sign off on the new CAP support measures. And, of course, this did not happen when it came to the ministers addressing the issue of how the next Rural Development Programme will be funded.

The Ulster Farmers Union has also confirmed to AgriLand that a potential ‘default’ scenario could become a reality, should Stormont fail to agree on the new CAP measures.

The union’s policy director Wesley Aston indicated that the introduction of a comprehensive flat SFP system, for Northern Ireland as a whole, could well be the immediate impact of a political row at Stormont, regarding the future direction of the CAP as a whole.

The North’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has indicated her intention to push ahead with the implementation of the new CAP measures, as a matter of priority.

However, the minister has also confirmed to AgriLand that she intends bringing the issue of the new CAP support measures before the Executive prior to going public on this matter.

A core component of the CAP review discussion moving forward will be the definition of ‘active farmer’ that is implemented in Northern Ireland. Significantly, DARD has published its own perspectives on this issue over the past number of days, confirming that – beyond 2015 – only those people taking all the production risks associated with the a specific area of land will be eligible to draw down the SFP entitlements associated with this activity.

A DARD spokesman has also confirmed that, under the new measures, it is envisaged that entitlements will not be directly attached to specific parcels of line. This, in turn, may well lead to a much more flexible market with regard to the future trading of entitlements.