Ulster cage fund wholly inadequate, says UFU

Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed its frustration at the level of funding offered under the Farm Modernisation Scheme in the province for converting from conventional cages.

The union’s poultry committee chairman, John McLenaghan, said members had been extremely disappointed with the contents of a letter from minister Michelle Gildernew describing it as “wholly inadequate”.

Last autumn committee members asked for financial assistance, highlighting the difficulties they were facing in complying with the ban on conventional battery cages , due on 1 January 2012.

In her reply, the minister had indicated that the Farm Modernisation Scheme presented a good funding opportunity for poultry producers, with its maximum grant amount of £4000, said Mr McLenaghan.

However the cost to an individual producer for converting conventional cages to an alternative system could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds, said Mr McLenaghan. With this proposed solution, the Minister had failed to adequately address the needs of the sector, he claimed.

He felt that if the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was serious about tackling the real issue, an alternative funding stream should be identified.

The current farm modernisation proposals had also further disadvantaged lowland egg producers, who had been effectively excluded from the scheme. Even those in Less Favoured Areas would have to compete with thousands of other applicants for the limited funding.

“By contrast, the agriculture minister in the Republic of Ireland, Brendan Smith, has announced that his department will direct 16m for poultry producers, to assist in the conversion to enriched cages,” Mr McLenaghan pointed out.

“This creates an anti-competitive market, further distorted by potential imports of cage eggs from other EU member states, which have already indicated that they will not meet the 2012 deadline.”

However, the UFU recognised that the Northern Ireland minister had supported the call for a trade ban on eggs produced in conventional cages post-2012. She had also given her backing to the introduction of a “code 4”, to differentiate between enriched cage eggs and conventional eggs.

“Unfortunately, these actions do not deal with the core problem of funding. Egg producers have very little time before they must decide whether to invest heavily or cease production.

“This response will do nothing to generate confidence among producers that our Minister can deliver an adequate solution to the industry’s problems.”