Agriculture Minister attempts to speed up payments

AGRICULTURE minister Michelle O’Neill insists she will do all she can to speed up agrienvironment payments.

“I’m sympathetic to the need of farmers for additional cash flow at this time,” she said.

“As we come through the winter, livestock farmers will find themselves with increasing feed bills, particularly as many animals had to be housed earlier than planned and consumed silage last autumn that would normally have been available from now onwards.”

There are almost 1,500 participants in the NI Countryside Management Scheme who claim on their single application form each May.

They have until December 31 to complete optional works and checks are carried out the following year with payment made once checks are complete.

“Last year, I took a decision to limit the numbers on the scheme, and that has given us the capacity to begin our checks earlier than has been our experience in the past,” the minister said.

“We have already begun administrative checks on 2012 claims and will commence inspections at the start of February, enabling payments to begin in May, some four months earlier than they began last year.

“I hope this will be of direct assistance to the farmers who are participating in this scheme, and will also be a signal to the banks and others that we are working alongside the farming community to reduce demands on working capital.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has the proposal to bring forward the release of this year’s payments by four months.

President Harry Sinclair said: “We tabled this proposal to the Minister recently in a bid to ease the cash flow problems which are affecting many farm businesses this winter and are pleased she has responded positively, because speeding up these payments will be a help to the farmers who are part of these schemes.

“With a 50 per cent drop in 2012 farm incomes confirmed this week, these types of policy decisions are absolutely essential to ease farmers cash flow problems this winter.

“But more still needs to be done, and we are strongly urging the department to facilitate the opening of approved finishing units for TB closed herds to assist farm businesses where cash flow problems are particularly serious.”