It’s time to take the politics out of agriculture  – that was the clear message from Northern Ireland’s MEP Jim Nicholson, who spent yesterday at Balmoral  Show.

Commenting on the current state of the CAP Reform debate, he said: “Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill must bring together all the relevant agri stakeholder groups with the sole aim of getting an agreed CAP settlement. And this must happen as soon as the upcoming EU elections are out of the way.

“Agriculture has never been used as a political football in Northern Ireland. But we are now in danger of this becoming a stark reality. There is a compromise that can be arrived and, in my opinion, this will be centred on the length of the transition period arrived at in relation to the introduction of the new CAP support measures.

“While not wishing to comment on whether Northern Ireland should be divided up into two CAP regions from 2015 onwards Jim Nicholson did say that the transition period could be extended out to 13 or possibly 14 years. Agriculture and food are at the very heart of the Northern Ireland economy.

“We can’t take any risk with the future of both sectors. The worst of all worlds would be for no CAP agreement to be reached before August 1st this year, which would result in measures being imposed that would harm the prospects for agri food immeasurably.”

Jim Nicholson went on to point out that the new CAP agreements must be fundamentally straightforward to implement. “The Commission in Brussels will be keeping a very close eye on this matter,” he stressed.

“Here in Northern Ireland we have already been down the road of disallowances with Brussels, the end result of which was more than significant repayments to the Commission. So we must learn from our mistakes.”

Commenting on the positive aspects of the new CAP arrangements for young farmers, Jim Nicholson said: “We now know that the EU s has agreed that farm partnerships will be accepted as part of the eligibility criteria for the young farmer support measures. And, as I understand it, both existing and new partnerships will be accepted in this regard. This will be a tremendously positively development for agriculture in Northern Ireland.

“The growth potential for agri food in Northern Ireland is immense. All the relevant stakeholder groups, including the Farm Minister, must do everything to ensure this is fully realised.”