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A mix of “basic support measures” available to all, supplemented by a menu of voluntary “modular support” options, have been proposed by the Ulster Farmers Union as the basis for a future domestic agricultural policy post Brexit.

While insisting that the range of policies contained in its paper are just “ideas for further discussion”, the UFU said now is the time to design a farm support system better suited to UK agriculture.

See also: NFU reveals new ‘three-pronged’ approach to farm support

“The UK government has already committed to providing equivalent funding to the UK’s farming industry for 2019 in what would have otherwise been the final year of operation for the existing CAP,” states UFU Discussion Document (PDF).

“However, the delivery system will not necessarily be the same as it is now and the opportunity exists to develop a different, refreshed system that creates the conditions for a much more productive, sustainable and resilient agriculture sector.”

Basic support measures

The basic support measures, which should be accessible to all and targeted at primary food producers, cover four areas:

  • A broad environmental programme – which includes things such as soil testing, fertiliser application and a low-level environmental scheme
  • An income safety net – which could include insurance policies, margin protection measures, futures markets, deficiency payments, intervention purchasing and direct payments linked to land productivity
  • Education and training – including continuous professional development for farmers and better funded R&D
  • Market promotion – including setting up a Northern Ireland Food Marketing Board 

Modular support measures

These measures would be voluntary and cover six areas:

  • Productivity enhancement – such as 60% capital grants (with a 10% top-up for young farmers), increased capital allowances and funding to encourage new technology uptake
  • Animal and plant health – for example, measures to eradicate bovine TB and support for integrated pest-management plans
  • Restructuring support – including a new entrants scheme
  • Risk management – with enhanced volatility mitigation measures
  • Selective agri-environment schemes – such as higher level habitat and biodiversity payments and strategic flood prevention
  • Wider rural development – to support and encourage diversification and tourism

The paper also calls for the maintenance of current EU support funding levels, a suitable transition period and flexibility though devolution for each region of the UK to meet its farming needs.

“The members of our policy committees have been ambitious and creative in their thinking and this discussion document shows what could be done with a healthy budget,” said UFU president Barclay Bell.

The full document is to be discussed over the coming months at a series of stakeholder meetings, to tease out which of the options hold the most promise.