Arable farmers in Northern Ireland should soon be eligible for direct payments for growing pulses, under a planned new Protein Crops Payment (PCP) pilot scheme.
A consultation has just been launched, as the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs seeks to lift local production and so reduce dependence on imported soya and other proteins for the dominant livestock sector.
It is therefore proposing growers receive £330/ha for growing combinable beans, peas and sweet lupins in 2021 – “similar to the 2019 rate of €365/ha for a similar protein scheme in the Republic of Ireland”, according to the consultation document.
Agriculture minster Edwin Poots said the crops would create a domestically produced source of protein for animal feed, and provide agronomic benefits within arable rotations.
“I intend to introduce [the scheme] for 2021 on a pilot basis, and then refine the approach for subsequent years to maximise the economic and environmental benefits.”
The consultation – which is open until 15 January – suggests the payment rate will result in a gross margin for protein crops comparable to other cereal crops.
It is also proposed that the total area eligible for payment under the pilot scheme in 2021 will be capped at 1,000ha.
Currently just 153ha of protein crops are grown in Northern Ireland, as growers have been unable to compete with supplies from the Republic of Ireland, where production-linked supports have existed for a number of years.
This has left the local industry dependent on imports, with some 370,000t of soya imported for feed manufacture, plus over 130,000t of other protein sources.
The new pilot scheme, if approved, will also mean a slight draw down from the BPS budget.
“But, as this is just 0.11% of the direct payments budget, the PCP will not have any significant impact on other direct payments,” says the consultation.
It is intended that payments under the PCP scheme will be paid alongside BPS from October 2021.
The Ulster Farmers Union has welcomed the move, saying it will help rebalance cereal output and give a much wider choice of suitable break crops, “encouraging best practice in crop rotation”.
Deputy president William Irvine said: “NI growers have been at a disadvantage to our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland for too long and it is a positive to see that moving forward, we will be working in similar schemes.”
But NFU combinable crops chairman Matt Culley warned that the new support could lead to market distortion within the UK.
“In the past, we have asked Defra for similar payments for flowering crops, but have experienced pushback,” he said.
“We have a protein deficit too in England, exacerbated in the reduction in the rapeseed area, and it would be good to some similar kind of support, perhaps as part of the Environmental Land Management scheme.”