Uncertainty around ANC scheme creating difficulties for farmers

Uncertainty around the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme is creating major difficulties for farmers making management decisions this autumn, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Farmers are still waiting for a decision on the ANC scheme by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the UFU Hill Farming Chairman, Ian Buchanan, has said.

“It has been five months since the end of the DAERA consultation on whether the ANC scheme should continue and we are still waiting for a decision,” he said.

Uncertainty around whether or not we will have a scheme after 2017 is making it impossible for farmers to make decisions about the future.

Examples of this frustration include sheep producers trying to plan their breeding season and farmers questioning the value of taking conacre in severely disadvantaged areas, Buchanan said.

“Due to the tight margins in livestock production, the decision on support will decide whether or not some severely disadvantaged land is farmed in the future.

“This underlines how important the ANC scheme is for supporting productive farming in these areas,” he said.

If DAERA chooses to end the ANC scheme it would result in the immediate loss of £20m (€23.1m) a year to farmers in severely disadvantaged areas, according to the UFU.

Meanwhile, the farmers’ union outlined that continued delays to the introduction of the new agri-environment scheme will also hit farm incomes, with suckler herds particularly badly affected.

Despite some recent improvements in beef and sheep prices, margins are slim. Direct support and agri-environment payments remain the biggest source of income on these farms.

“This has been recognised by neighbouring regions. They have encouraged investment, because they understand the contribution these farmers make to the wider economy, the environment and rural communities,” Buchanan said.

If a similar approach is not adopted in Northern Ireland production will decline in severely disadvantaged areas, he said.

“This would be to the detriment of the agri-food industry, while marginal areas no longer farmed would fall quickly into disrepair – a situation that would not be easily reversed.”