All farmers taking part in the Farm Nutrient Management scheme in Northern Ireland are now expected to be paid the 60% grant for investing in slurry storage, following an emergency meeting between the Ulster Farmers Union and agriculture minister Jeff Rooker.

Questionmarks over the funding first came to light at the beginning of March when DARD announced that the 45m set aside for the scheme would not be enough.

Farmers would be treated on a “first come, first served” basis.

The news prompted an angry response from the farming community, who described the situation as “a shambles”.

But following a meeting in London late last week, Lord Rooker gave the clearest hint yet that funding would be found, to ensure that all farmers who submit valid applications will be paid.

Key to this will be securing an extension to the scheme.

As things stand, work on slurry storage is supposed to be completed by the end of this year to quality for the grant.

But Lord Rooker revealed he had already submitted a request to Brussels for the scheme to be extended to the end of 2008.

“I will use my best endeavours to secure the resources to enable all valid applications received by 31 March to proceed within that timescale,” he said.

UFU president Campbell Tweed said he was optimistic that Brussels would grant the necessary approval, especially since the Republic of Ireland has been granted a similar extension to its grant scheme.

A 2008 cut-off date would provide time for Lord Rooker, who is also the direct rule minister for finance, to find the extra funds needed.

It was “as good a guarantee as we could have hoped for”, Mr Tweed told Farmers Weekly.

Initially some 10,000 farmers registered an interest in the Farm Nutrient Management scheme.

The UFU has estimated that the total cost of complying with the nitrates Directive, including investment in slurry storage, will come to 250m.

Mr Tweed conceded that the 45m currently available would probably be enough for this year, because it wasn’t physically possible to complete all the work in 2006.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk