UFU concern at missed opportunity on EU aid package distribution

The Ulster Farmers' Union says that while any funding to farming is welcome, it believes DAERA missed an opportunity to deliver wider benefits when it decided to give unspent EU emergency funds to smaller dairy farmers.

UFU president Barclay Bell
UFU president Barclay Bell

The UFU says it was not consulted, but accepts the decision was taken to avoid funds being lost back to Brussels.

The DAERA decision was to focus around £1.5 million not yet spent from the 2016 EU Exceptional Aid (EEA) package on farmers producing less than a million litres of milk with the payment eligible on up to 500,000 litres.

The amount is what remains of a £4.5 million EU package, which the UFU pressed successfully to be allocated to deliver long term benefits for the entire industry.

The under-spend is largely because one of the schemes drawn up by DAERA to utilise this funding did not get off the ground.

“The DAERA decision was to avoid funding being lost. That makes sense, but it was DAERA’s choice not to consult the industry. As a result the use of the unspent funds will have a very narrow focus, and beef and sheep farmers will inevitably question the decision to direct this funding to smaller dairy farmers,” said UFU president, Barclay Bell.

He added that with the decision now finalised DAERA should aim to get the detail sorted out and the money to farmers as soon as possible.

“At the same time, even without a minister in place, DAERA needs to accept that the easy answer is not always the best. Decisions should not be taken without consulting the industry,” said the UFU president.