Northern Irish farmers are still waiting to trade their entitlements, as the Department of Agriculture there struggles to set up the system.

To date, it has not managed to confirm the value of farmers entitlements – the vital first step on the way to trading.

But officials have said farmers will know the value of their entitlements ahead of the 2 April deadline which guarantees transfers will be processed in time to claim the 2006 single farm payment.

In a recent statement, a DARD spokesman said: “DARD advises that its intention is to establish entitlements this month and expects to confirm the position within the next week.

“The Department cautions that those who have not responded to letters whether in relation to duplicate fields or in relation to business changes are unlikely to have their entitlements established in the near future.”

But brokers in Britain say that they would not expect the Northern Irish entitlement market to be a busy one, even if trading was up and running.

George Paton of Webb Paton said that the predominance of small-scale livestock farming in the province meant that the market for entitlements would be small.

“Vendors seem to want too much for their entitlements – more than they are worth.”