The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) believes the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) missed an opportunity to deliver wider benefits with its decision to give unspent EU emergency funds to smaller dairy farmers.

The organisation accepts the decision was taken to avoid funds being lost back to Brussels, but says it was not consulted on the matter.

DAERA recently announced the decision to focus approximately £1.5m not yet spent from the EU Exceptional Adjustment Aid (EAA) package on dairy farmers producing less than a million litres of milk. Payments will be on a pence-per-litre basis, capped at 500,000L.

The amount is what remains of a £4.5m EU package of support for livestock farmers. The under-spend is largely due to one of the schemes not getting off the ground, according to the UFU.

As a result of the DAERA decision, UFU President Barclay Bell commented that the use of the unspent funds will have a very narrow focus, and that beef and sheep farmers will inevitably question the decision to exclude them from this funding.

With the decision finalised, Mr Bell urged DAERA to get the detail sorted out and the money to farmers as soon as possible.

“DAERA needs to accept that the easy answer is not always the best. Decisions should not be taken without consulting the industry,” concluded the UFU President.

DAERA also plans to use part of the funding secured under the EU EAA package to help pig producers in Northern Ireland participate in a worm control programme, which the UFU welcomes.