The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) will be making it clear to Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’ Neill that it wants to see the minimal level of funding transferred from Pillar I of the new Common Agricultural Policy budget, which takes account of all farm direct payments, to Pillar II.

This was the almost unanimous view expressed by the union’s executive membership at a meeting held yesterday.

“Under current EU legislation a mandatory five per cent of CAP funds is made available to fund Pillar II measures,” explained UFU policy director Wesley Aston.

“UFU policy is clear that all additional transfers should be kept to an absolute minimum. What’s more, these monies must be match funded by the executive and should be made available to finance schemes that are targeted directly at primary producers.”

Aston went on to discuss the issue of how best to fund the recommendations contained within the Going for Growth document, published by the Agri-Food Strategy Board earlier this year.

He continued: “Obviously, we want the executive to put as much additional money as possible into funding the Going for Growth measures. Our fundamental policy remains that of insisting that farmers should have the right to spend the vast bulk of the money ear marked by Brussels, in whichever ways best suit the development of their own businesses.

“This is a fundamental principal that we will never deviate from. We firmly believe that farmers should be the direct beneficiaries of the support monies made available by way of the CAP funding arrangements.

“And this means making all of the support available from Brussels available for projects that will help improve the efficiency and sustainability of production agriculture.”

Aston made his comments against the backdrop of the news that England has agreed a 15 per cent additional transfer of funds from Pillar I to Pillar II. The equivalent figure for Wales is 9.5 per cent.

Minister O’ Neill must make her mind up on this matter before the end of the week, in order to comply with the timetable laid down by the European Commission. She is currently in Brussels, participating in the annual review of the fisheries support measures.

A Department of Agriculture and Rural Development spokesman has told AgriLand that an announcement from Minister O’Neill regarding the transfer of monies form Pillar I to Pillar II may well be made over the coming days.