The majority of farmers in Northern Ireland will receive early payments for the 2016 Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) within the next fortnight.
NI farm minister Michelle McIlveen said 80% of eligible farm businesses would be sent advance payments to help ease the cashflow crisis engulfing agriculture. Full payments will be made to 95% of farmers by 30 December.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) remains on track to issue advance BPS payments from Monday 17 October until Friday 21 October.
EU rules allow member states to pay up to 70% of the value of direct payments to farmers from 16 October – and Daera intends to take full advantage of these rules.
“We are breaking new ground as we are the first region of the UK to deliver advance payments,” said Ms McIlveen.
“I am aware of the challenges ahead and recognise the importance of scheme payments to farm incomes.”
The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) welcomed the early payments because recent bad weather had piled more pressure on arable and livestock farmers.
UFU chief executive Wesley Aston said: “We have been asking for advance BPS payments for years. It’s great news that we are now in a position to secure them.
“We do always stress that it is important that every farmer gets their payments as soon as possible.”
RPA doubts persist
In England, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has committed to paying 90% of the estimated 87,000 eligible farmers their full BPS money during December.
But the NFU has raised serious doubts that the agency will be able to achieve this goal, as it is still paying hundreds of farmers the remainder of their 2015 BPS payments.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “The news that farmers in parts of the UK are to receive their BPS payments early puts greater pressure on the RPA to make sure they deliver on their promises to pay 90% of eligible farmers by 30 December.
“If there is any reason to suggest this target date will not be hit, the RPA should immediately consider bridging payments.”
Scottish BPS loans
In Scotland, a government loan scheme has been set up to pay 17,300 eligible farm businesses 80% of their BPS and greening payments by mid-November.
NFU Scotland is reminding farmers and crofters that the deadline for applying to the Scottish government for the National Loan Scheme is only a week away (12 October).
The government has sent letters to all farmers and crofters, including details on how to apply for the scheme.