Farmers in ‘crisis mode’ over RHI subsidy cuts, warns UFU

A drastic cut in payments to RHI boiler owners has left many farmers in “crisis mode”, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned.

Saturday, 2nd March 2019, 7:27 am
UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt

Claimants in the botched renewable energy initiative will see their payments massively and permanently slashed under proposals published by civil servants in the Department for the Economy this week.

The union said earlier this week that it is “outraged” by proposals to slash RHI subsidies by up to 96%.

The Department for the Economy (DfE) proposals to drastically reduce tariffs “are completely unacceptable and will devastate farmers who are already struggling”, it added.

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Following what the UFU described as a “frank and forthright” meeting yesterday with the department’s permanent secretary Noel Lavery, UFU deputy president, Victor Chestnutt stressed that if the cuts come into effect, many poultry farmers will be facing “dramatic cash flow issues”.

He added: “The proposed cuts have the potential to decimate hundreds of Northern Ireland’s farming businesses. It is galling that these farmers entered a government-run scheme in good faith, used it responsibly and now their businesses are being pushed to the wall because of the failures of others.”

The UFU said the cuts will permanently damage the competitiveness of Northern Ireland’s poultry industry.

“Our closest neighbours in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland are receiving around £20,000 per boiler per year in RHI payments. DfE’s proposed plans take NI payments down to £2,000 per boiler per year,” Mr Chestnutt said.

“This is completely unsustainable and doesn’t account for loan repayments, maintenance, or fuel. Farmers in GB and ROI will be able to produce birds at a much lower cost, making them more competitive in the market place.”

Mr Chestnutt said “countless” farmers have contacted the UFU to question the RHI audit process, which he described as “gruelling”.

He continued: “Some farmers were audited in summer 2018 and still have not received a report. This is completely unacceptable. We encouraged DfE to follow the lead of other regions and to organise pre-audit workshops. I’m pleased to say they were receptive to this idea and agreed to plan workshops going forward.”

The RHI tariff legislation bill had its first reading in the House of Commons on Thursday and the UFU say that it is seeking urgent meetings with the NI Secretary of State and MPs at Westminster on the issue.