EU agri-food deal 'curate's egg' for Northern Ireland farmers
The completion of the combined Common Agricultural Policy Reform and Budget deal in Europe will directly affect farm incomes in Northern Ireland up to 2020.
Local farmers have known for some time that agreement in Brussels this week would at best be a damage limitation exercise for production agriculture here, and so it has turned out to be.
There are approximately 25,000 farmers in Northern Ireland, who are in receipt of £250m of direct CAP support payments.
Last year, output from the province's agri-food sector amounted to approximately £4bn.
Ulster Farmers' Union president Harry Sinclair described the finalised CAP deal as a workable arrangement for farming sectors.
He said: "A lot of ground has been covered since the beginning of the week in both Luxembourg and Brussels and overall I think we've come away with a deal that will work for Northern Ireland.
"The agri-food sector is at the heart of our local economy and this CAP deal will ensure that our farmers continue to receive vital financial support at a time when the market is failing to deliver."
However, profits at farm level – in a normal year – equate to the amount of direct support available from Europe
The CAP reform process got under way 18 months ago.
It is envisaged that the measures agreed this week will be introduced in 2015 and should remain in place for five years.
Spending on agriculture will account for 40% of total EU expenditure over the next seven years: the equivalent figure was 65% back in 2000. The reform deal will be implemented at a time of unprecedented demand for food.
Courtesy of this week's deal in Brussels the means by which support funding is shared out among farmers has been radically changed.
At the heart of the new arrangements will be the introduction of an area-based support payment system. This immediately brings into play a 'winners versus losers' scenario.
However, the deal brokered by the European Commission, the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament comes with the caveat that individual farmers will lose no more than 30% of the direct CAP funding that is currently available.
The EU has also agreed a series of 'greening' measures to proactively support farmers, who commit to implement more environ -mentally-friendly practices.
However, the good news for Northern Ireland is that 90%-plus of local farmers should automatically qualify for these payments.
The deal will also preferentially support farmers under the age of 40. Provision has been made to offer higher levels of support to smaller farming businesses.
MEP Jim Nicholson has likened this week's CAP agreement to a "curate's egg – good in parts".