GOVERNMENT PLANS for developing and extending agri-environment and farm woodland schemes in Northern Ireland are in jeopardy, following industry rejection of additional voluntary modulation.

In a consultation document, issued last April, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development makes it clear that extra funding over and above the EU‘s compulsory modulation is needed just to maintain existing schemes.

It estimates that by 2007 EU modulation of 5% will bring in just £6.9m – well short of the £15.3m needed.

Bridging the £8.4m gap would require an additional 3.4% cut in farmer payments.

Without this money, DARD would have to close its agri-environment and farm woodland schemes to new applicants and “simply maintain the existing stock of contractual commitments thereafter”.

Ulster Farmers Union spokesman Joe McDonald said that without any additional funds, the new entry level agri-environment scheme would have to be shelved.

“Although there would be enough to pay farmers already signed up to the existing countryside management and environmentally sensitive area schemes,” he added.

A similar response has come from the National Beef Association in Northern Ireland, which has called for single farm payment deductions to be kept to a minimum.

“The highest possible level of SFP is needed so farmers find it as easy as possible to develop their businesses over the next eight years and meet the challenge of decoupling,” said chairman John Carson.

But the NBA accepts some extra funds may be needed to allow existing agri-environment and farm woodland schemes to stay open and develop.

It therefore supports an option outlined in the consultation for 2.4% additional voluntary modulation, combined with increased co-funding by government.