NI farmers warn government over scrapping deprived area scheme

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is appealing the government’s decision to eliminate the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) Scheme next year. 

The union has warned the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that this could pose a “lose-lose outcome” for farmers and the environment, causing potential damage for rural areas.

“Farming in severely disadvantaged areas (SDAs) comes with big challenges, linked to the landscape and climate, which add immense extra production costs,” explained Victor Chestnutt, deputy president of the UFU. “This has been understood by successive governments which have delivered support payments to offset these natural constraints.”

The ANC Scheme provides payments to farmers that own land in constrained areas to compensate for all or part of the additional costs and income lost related to the constraints for agricultural production in the area.

UFU hill farming chairman Ian Buchanan, who also farms on the edge of the Sperrins, said that getting rid of the scheme would be a major mistake. “These areas have been vital to red meat production by delivering over the years the highest-quality suckler calves and store lambs for lowland areas,” he commented. “With margins tight, without the £20 million a year in ANC support, production would be scaled back. That would mean these areas no longer delivering their potential – and a loss of quality stock for lowland farmers.”

DAERA concluded its consultation period on alternative solutions to offer support to areas of natural constraint some months ago, according to the UFU. “To date no decision has been made and this is creating uncertainty for farmers who have been heavily reliant on support for many years,” added Chestnutt. He said that this would be a “double blow” in areas where farmers are already living with the end of agri-environment scheme contracts and continued delays to the new Environmental Farming Scheme.

Red meat production is the largest contributor to the Northern Irish agri-food sector, in terms of both employment and revenue, said Chestnutt. Therefore, it is critical in the ‘Going for Growth’ strategy – a strategic action plan to support the Northern Irish agri-food industry.

He concluded: “With ANC scheme commitments in place in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, along with other schemes specifically targeted at livestock production, Northern Ireland is in danger of being left behind if our government fails to deliver similar financial support.”

A spokesperson for DAERA said: “Given the pressures on both the Department’s and the Executive’s budget, providing any additional support to the SDA will be challenging. Long-term value for money cannot be ignored, nor indeed the redistribution of Pillar I monies which is already occurring as a result of the transition towards flat rate support in Pillar I.”

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