With four online events planned in the coming weeks and background papers still to be published, more details will emerge on the changes proposed in the DAERA consultation on future agricultural policy.

One of the key issues for farmers will be how DAERA manages the system of entitlements used to draw down area based payments under a new resilience measure.

Currently, to claim under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), a farmer must hold entitlements and activate them using eligible land.

A similar system is proposed for a new area-based resilience payment, likely to start in 2024, and accounting for the bulk of farm support payments in the early years of a new regime.

However, there are a couple of key changes proposed. The first is that all land will be eligible to claim entitlements, except for hard features such as lanes, housing etc.

DAERA estimates this will bring in an additional 40,000ha of scrub, bushes etc. It works out at 4% more eligible land across NI.

With the Department not keen to re-establish entitlements (as happened in 2015), this extra land will take the pressure off farmers who had to keep every last corner eligible to be able to claim entitlements in full.

It could generate more interest in buying and leasing entitlements

In fact, it remains one of the great blunders of EU policy that auditors in the late 2000s raised issues around land eligibility in NI, which effectively told farmers to clear scrub and cut back hedges.

However, with more land available than entitlements, it could generate more interest in buying and leasing entitlements, while also perhaps taking some heat out of the conacre market, as some farmers won’t require as much extra land to claim payments.


Among the other key changes is the DAERA plan to ensure only active farmers get the resilience payment.

One option is to exclude those who didn’t grow at least 3ha of crops or had cattle and sheep registered on APHIS in previous years.

That might not actually affect too many landowners, as most exited the system prior to 2015, while others might have retained some cattle or sheep.

By 2023, they will have had nine years of payments

But there are also those who kept some livestock for a couple of years, and/or created a fairly dubious system of selling grass, to satisfy requirements in 2015.

They have since returned to letting out their land, while still claiming BPS. By 2023, they will have had nine years of payments.

All good things must come to an end.

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