3 August 2000
Northern Ireland cuts hill subsidies
by Philip Clarke
HILL farmers in Northern Ireland are set to suffer a 10% loss of support over the next four years following the introduction of a new area-based system of support.
Agriculture minister Brid Rogers claimed that the changeover from Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances would increase payments by nearly 40%.
It would enable Northern Ireland to offer generous transitional protection to those who stand to lose out under the new method of calculation, she said.
But the reality is that the total budget is being cut.
The current amount spent on Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances in Northern Ireland is 24m made up of a basic 15.5m and a top-up of 8.5m.
Over the next four years that top-up will be progressively reduced to 4.2m, leaving a total of 19.7m for hill support in 2004.
Mrs Rogers makes her 40% claim by comparing the new funding scheme with the 15.5m basic sum, ignoring the existing top-up.
A so-called safety net will be drawn from this declining sum.
Farmers who face a reduction in payments under the new system will get 90% of the reduction restored in 2001, 80% restored in 2002 and 50% restored in 2003.
The Ulster Farmers Union has given a cautious welcome to the plan, though it regrets that some hill livestock producers will be losers.
Average hill farm incomes this year will be -200, said the unions commodities director, Wesley Aston.
Last year it was just 170. How can you take money away from these people?
Finer details of the scheme, including the payment rate per hectare and what stocking rate limits will apply and any payment ceiling, are yet to be announced.
However, like farmers in Scotland, the Ulster union would like dairy farmers to be included in hill support plans, as is the case in the Irish Republic.
But, with the new Hill Farm Allowance scheme announced for England limiting payments to sheep and suckler cow producers, the union is not optimistic.