There will inevitably be lots of debate in the coming weeks around the future agricultural policy proposals put out for consultation by DAERA Minister Edwin Poots on Tuesday.
A key issue for farmers is how direct payments will change. Currently, the industry receives around £300m each year via the basic payment scheme (BPS).
This money is only guaranteed for the lifetime of the current government at Westminister (2024/25), and if we are to secure funds beyond that, there is a general recognition that farmers will have to deliver more environmental goods.
It is in that context that we need to assess what is currently proposed.
The starting point, most likely in 2024, is the new resilience payment, based on land area. DAERA proposes that initially the bulk of existing support (around £250m) would be allocated to this measure, with the remainder (around £50m) hived off to a headage payment for suckler cows and finishing beef cattle.
To be eligible, farmers will also have to meet new Farm Sustainability Standards
If that does happen in 2024, we are looking at area payments reducing from around £120 per acre at present, to roughly £100 per acre.
To be eligible, farmers will also have to meet new Farm Sustainability Standards (replacing cross-compliance) and potentially also participate in the new soil nutrient health scheme being rolled out over the next five years.
In addition, only those farmers who opt for the resilience payment will be able to partake in other future farm support schemes (eg capital investment). So in the early years, there are plenty of incentives to ensure all get involved, and remain compliant with various rules.
Over time, money will be gradually moved out of this resilience payment (long-term it is intended to provide a basic safety net) and into the likes of agri-environment-type schemes. But this will be done gradually, and be dependent on the level of uptake and demand from farmers.
The money is being re-directed into agri-environment schemes, yet to be fully developed or rolled out, and without any clear indication of likely uptake from farmers
That is in contrast to what is happening in England, where all farmers had at least a 5% cut from payments in 2021, with at least 50% gone by 2024 and a final BPS in 2027.
The money is being re-directed into agri-environment schemes, yet to be fully developed or rolled out, and without any clear indication of likely uptake from farmers. We should all be thankful DAERA is not following the English lead.