In the Stormont Assembly last month, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots told MLAs that he wanted to see direct payments spread more evenly across Northern Ireland (NI) farms and has asked his officials to bring forward options for his consideration.
NI is different to other parts of the UK and is the only region to currently put an upper limit on payments. This is set at €150,000, but this only applies to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), not to the greening element of direct payments.
There are to be some changes in 2021, with BPS and greening added together when calculating new entitlement values, so a revised limit will be in place, which is to have a neutral impact.
It means that any new cap on payments will apply from 2022 at the earliest.
The latest published data on payments shows that CAFRE is the largest recipient of farm payments in NI, with a total of just over £225,000 for the 2018 scheme year.
Compare that with Britain, where there are 14 claimants with individual direct payments of over £1m.
In NI, there are only five businesses that received over £200,000, a total of 14 businesses with over £150,000 and 88 with payments of more than £100,000. Only 645 had payments over £50,000.
If Minister Poots was to apply an overall cap of £100,000 for individual farm payments, it would free up approximately £2.64m to be spread across 24,034 remaining claimants. That works out at only £110 per farm.
If he set the overall limit at £80,000, it would release an estimated £5.28m and a £70,000 limit takes this to around £7.6m.
If he takes a very radical approach and set the cap at £50,000, it frees up in the region of £16.17m of payments. That would be worth an additional £690 per farm to all other claimants.
During his statement in the Assembly chamber last month, the minister also suggested that he would like to remove those engaged in “hobby farming”.
That potentially could prove to be very controversial. There are over 3,000 people in NI who claim payments of less than £2,000.
If they dropped out of the system, it would free up an estimated £4.1m, so, again, the impact on all other payments would be reasonably limited.