Northern Ireland’s farmers must receive a fair cut of the cake from Westminster as countries from the EU meet in Brussels this Thursday to thrash out details of the, long awaited €500 million support package.
Amidst, the worst ever financial period in agriculture, the primary aim of this package is to address deteriorating cash-flow issues and restore equilibrium between demand and supply in the beleaguered dairy industry.
Although, this scheme should most certainly be welcomed, there are significant concerns regarding its delivery and effectiveness in restoring financial stability and profitability to farming. It is crystal clear that local farmers are closely monitoring how DAERA might allocate NI’s share of the funding announced in July by European Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan.
Following Thursday’s meeting, the all-important focus will turn to individual member states and whether they will use domestic funds to match EU money. What remains to be seen is how the Northern Ireland Executive will allocate its share of the overall £30 million package made available to the UK.
Responsibility is now firmly within the hands of the Agricultural Minister to secure and invest the matching funds in order to maximise the benefits of the package for local farmers in dire need of financial support and stability. The package consists of a conditional adjustment fund, enabling member states to double the support provided to local farmers. It is without question, that huge decisions are looming around this vitally important support package- the very livelihoods and existence of local farmers with issues such as finance, career prospects and succession plans on the line.
Governments have long had the power to match-fund such initiatives but at a local level, have not yet stepped up to the plate when it comes to supporting those farmers in extreme difficulty. I make a renewed call to the DAERA Minister to financially expand upon this support package in order to assist the agri-food industry as farmers continue to hang on with bated breath.
Jonathan Hall, Fivemiletown