Belfast Telegraph

Union fears CAP shake-up will take bite from agri-food sector

By Clare Weir

Changes to the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) should not be allowed to harm Northern Ireland's growing agri-food industry, the Ulster Farmers' Union has said.

Reforms to the policy could see subsidies for farmers slashed by billions of pounds by 2020. UFU chief executive Clarke Black said while support has been guaranteed until 2014, the success of the agri-food sector in the region must not be affected long-term.

"Our fear is that large cuts to subsidies could add costs to the production side of things and that will impact negatively on the competitiveness of our agri-food industry," he said.

"This sector encourages big spend in Northern Ireland and leverages money into the Northern Ireland economy during difficult financial times, and this cannot be put at risk."

Northern Bank's head of agriculture John Henning said that while the major thrust of the proposals centre on a "common policy" across Europe, implementing a one-size-fits-all strategy is "almost impossible".

"On a positive note, the announcement of additional investment in research and innovation is a welcome boost, as are the plans to help overcome fragmentation and lack of structure in the food chain," he said.

"It is also encouraging to note the proposals for a simpler and more efficient CAP and the flat-rate payment scheme for small farmers demonstrates an innovative approach. As always, the devil will be in the detail."