Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity to shake up its agricultural policies and support schemes for the first time in 40 years, as we prepare to leave the EU.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister updated the Assembly on his intention to change and improve how his Department creates policy across the food, agricultural and environmental spectrum and to chart a new and exciting way forward. This includes making a number of simplifications and improvements to the rules governing the Direct Payment Scheme for the 2021 scheme year.
Minister Poots has said: “Leaving the EU provides for an unprecedented level of regional discretion and flexibility with regard to future agricultural support in Northern Ireland. This is the most significant change in policy affecting the agricultural sector in over 40 years. It means that our policies do not have to be constrained by the EU CAP Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 construct – we need to move to something new which better addresses the needs of Northern Ireland agriculture.
“Going forward I want to devise support schemes that provide opportunities for all of our farmers, no farmer should be left behind. Schemes and support are needed to help farmers develop their businesses, no matter where they farm, to become more efficient and to maximise the sustainable returns they can achieve from the assets at their disposal.
“These assets include the environmental assets on the farm, and I believe that farms, especially those in the hills and other disadvantaged areas, are well placed to play a major role in delivering more of the environmental outcomes the people who live here want and that we owe future generations.”
Speaking about the future direction of travel, the Minister said: “I want to make a difference and I want to make early changes that start to move us in the desired direction. I therefore, asked my Department to review our approach to the current schemes and implement improvements and simplifications wherever possible that are in keeping with the longer term direction of travel and which can be taken forward under the Agriculture Act.
“Therefore with this in mind from the 1st of January 2021, I have decided to implement the following changes:
- Remove the Greening requirements for the 2021 scheme year and incorporate the Greening Payment into Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlement unit values. The evidence is strong that the Greening requirements of Crop Diversification and Environmental Focus Area retention have very limited relevance to NI. If anything, they seem to have been counter-productive by reducing the area of cropping and thus the diversity of land cover and habitat.
- On capping of payments, given that the changes for 2021 do not have a primary aim of altering the amount of funding farmers receive in 2021, it is my intention to make a technical adjustment to deliver a neutral solution on capping.
- For 2021, I am limiting the number of entitlements that can be allocated or topped up from the Regional Reserve in respect of applications from Young Farmers and New Entrants to 90 for each application.
- I have also asked my officials to review the approach to the application of Cross-Compliance penalties as soon as possible. My aim is to ensure that penalties are proportionate and reflect the seriousness of the non- compliance identified.”
The Minister concluded: “My ultimate aim is to ensure that we take full advantage of the opportunities presented to us post-Exit, to develop a sustainable agricultural industry in which all farmers are supported on an equitable basis. This will be underpinned by a set of bespoke measures that will ensure the delivery of productive, environmentally sustainable, resilient and supply chain focused outcomes tailored for Northern Ireland.”