Belfast Telegraph

Farmers' relief at EU deal

Stormont agrees £100-an-acre subsidy over seven years

By Rebecca Black

Farmers have expressed relief that a long-awaited agreement on European funding has been reached by Stormont.

Farmers in Northern Ireland are heavily subsidised by Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments.

The formula for how this funding is allocated has been revised by the EU.

It will eventually see all farmers receiving the same flat-rate of £100 per acre.

If Stormont had failed to endorse a new system to phase the changes in before August 1, the new formula would have been imposed immediately by Brussels automatically.

However, after yesterday's agreement it will be introduced gradually over the next seven years allowing farmers more time to adjust.

The Ulster Farmers' Union welcomed the move. While it was not exactly what its members had been hoping for, it said farmers would be "relieved that an agreement has finally been reached and they will not face a default position of an immediate transition to a single flat rate payment come August 1".

UFU President Ian Marshall said farmers had been "seriously worried" about the new flat rate being introduced with no transitionary period. "The fall-out would have been a complete disaster for the industry and undoubtedly it would have put many farm businesses at risk," he said.

"The Agriculture Minister has been true to her word that she would not let it go to a default position and our politicians have done their bit to show their support for the future of farming in Northern Ireland."

The UFU had hoped for a 10-year transition and for Northern Ireland's farmers to be divided into two regions – severely disadvantaged and disadvantaged.

Instead, a seven-year transition was agreed and just one region for all of our farmers.

Mr Marshall added: "Farmers at least now know where they stand and while it isn't exactly what the union was hoping for we need to look at the positives.

"A seven-year transition means that Northern Ireland has the longest transition period of all the UK regions and it gives farmers some time to adapt their businesses."

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill described the deal as "a fair and balanced solution which represents a good outcome for farmers right across the north".

She added: "The level of stakeholder engagement on the new CAP reforms has been unprecedented and very careful consideration was given to all the views expressed."

Background

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy was introduced in 1962 as an subsidy to buy farm output when the market price fell below an agreed target level.

In 2013 the CAP budget was £49bn – almost half of the total EU budget. Northern Ireland receives £300m a year in agricultural subsidies from the EU. Last year the policy was reformed in an bid to simplify it.

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