I announced last week that the Executive agreed to my proposals for a budget of up to £623m for the next Rural Development Programme (RDP) – an increase of almost 16% compared with the current programme.
The agreement will provide additional funding of up to £250m to fund a Farm Business Improvement Scheme, which will improve the sustainability and competitiveness of our farms.
This funding will help to deliver on the aims and objectives contained within the Agri Food Strategy Board's Going for Growth document.
The Farm Business Improvement Scheme will be an important part of the next RDP and will include a portfolio of measures to support sustainable growth.
In particular, the beef sector has been under increasing pressure and I want to make sure the next RDP helps address their issues.
The scheme will include a number of measures which could potentially benefit beef farmers, including advice, training, capital support and initiatives to promote sharing of knowledge and improve the quality of the land.
I want to encourage beef farmers to take up the opportunities that will be available in the next RDP to invest in their skills and their businesses.
I have allocated £256m of the RDP budget for the protection of the environment through support for countryside protection schemes.
Management of natural resources to improve biodiversity and build on the significant investment and work which has been carried out in the current programme is one key priority.
I have also allocated £80m of the budget for rural development. This demonstrates my continuing commitment to support the economic and social development of rural communities.
I am confident this funding package will enable us to deliver a broad range of measures to improve the competitiveness of our farm and agri-food businesses, protect and enhance our environment and improve the quality of life in rural communities.
- Michelle O'Neill MLA is Stormont Agriculture Minister