O'Neill meets with farmers in South Down

18th April 2013

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill was the guest speaker at a public meeting yesterday evening in Hilltown to discuss a number of rural issues.

At the meeting, which was attended by over 200 people, the recent snow storm and CAP reform were the main topics of discussion. Minister O’Neill said: “South Down was one of the main areas to have been affected by the recent severe weather. The collection and disposal scheme, which closes this Friday, has proven to have been of great assistance with hundreds of farms in the South Down area having had livestock collected.

“The second element of the hardship measures introduced, proposals for which I will bring to the Executive in due course, will seek to mitigate the costs of livestock losses that have been sustained by farmers arising from the snow storm.

“The hardship scheme will be linked to the collection and disposal scheme and will be framed in light of the information gathered on the extent and nature of losses which we will build as farmers have stock removed and disposed of by the approved renderers. The details of the hardship scheme and how to apply will be made public as soon as possible.”

The Minister reminded farmers who cannot meet the required stocking density between 1 April to 31 October as a result of Force Majeure associated with the recent severe weather, need to write and tell the Department at the earliest opportunity to highlight that this is the case. She said: “The Department will accept letters and Force Majeure application forms, which are available on the DARD website or at DARD Direct Offices, up to but not beyond the 15 May which is the closing date for the Single Application Form. If farmers neglect to do this and, as a result, do not obtain an LFACA payment in 2014, it will then, in all probability, be too late to claim under Force Majeure provisions.

“It is therefore vital that farmers take action on this matter now and write to the Department or complete and return the form to explain why the stocking density has fallen below the required level.”

On CAP Reform the Minister said the key elements are now in place to enter the final stages of the negotiation process, where the Irish Presidency, the European Parliament and the EU Commission will enter the so-called trilogues in order to secure a final deal. She explained: “The key issues for me in the final three months of negotiations will be to ensure that we secure maximum regional flexibility to decide on the policy options that best suit the balance of our local interests. I will also want to ensure that we have the ability to implement a gradual and orderly transition towards flat rate, area based payments that will allow farm businesses sufficient time to adjust to the undoubted challenges that this will bring. And I will want to ensure the greening proposals are suitable to a region where farming is predominantly grassland based.

“I will certainly continue to use every available avenue both at official and Ministerial level in order to press our case on these and the myriad other issues that form part of this extremely complex support framework.”

After the meeting the Minister visited a number of information exhibits on display, including Countryside Services Ltd and Down Rural Area Partnership.