Belfast Telegraph

Department rules out early payment of EU cash to farms

By Chris McCullough

Cash-stricken farmers in Northern Ireland have no hope of advances on their EU direct payments, it has been revealed.

As part of the EU farm aid package announced by Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan, it was suggested member states could pay out a 70% advance.

But the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the body responsible for the payments, has ruled out the move, as has the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which covers England and make payments to the UK devolved administrations.

RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw announced yesterday that nothing would be paid out before December.

The news from the RPA came as no surprise to Ian Marshall, the president of the Ulster Farmers Union, who said: "With the entitlements in Northern Ireland still to calculate, we always knew it would be tough for DARD to release any advance payments before December.

"The UFU has urged DARD to release as much money as it possibly can in the first week of December to ease the problems on farms.

"Even with the EU commissioner announcing that member states could release partial direct payments, the UFU knew farmers in Northern Ireland could realistically not benefit from this announcement.

"Our message to DARD is to focus on December and get as much money released as is physically possible by the department."

As part of the aid package announced in Brussels, local farmers were hopeful that their cashflow problems could be eased by advance payments.

But A DARD spokesperson said: "It is widely recognised across Europe that this year will be challenging for the administration of direct payments due to the new schemes introduced under Common Agricultural Policy reform.

"The commission's recent announcement that they will allow advance payments of up to 70% to be paid from October is based on the premise that all checks and controls have been completed and processes are in place to facilitate an advance payment.

"For many claims, particularly inspection cases, this will not be the case and no payment would be possible in October.

"Our focus is on ensuring that farmers are notified of their entitlement in November, with payments being made to as many farmers in December as possible."

A spokesperson from the RPA added: "The RPA will make full payments on claims to farmers in England from December and as early as possible in the claim window, with a majority in December and the vast majority by the end of January. Each part of the UK administers CAP in a different way."

The CAP reforms blamed for holding up the payments will benefit the rural economy in Northern Ireland by more than £2bn from 2014 to 2020.

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