Payment rates for environmental measures under a new system of farm supports in NI will be higher than current schemes, a senior DAERA official has confirmed.

Rosemary Agnew said the department is moving away from the setting payment rates on the “cost incurred/income foregone” model which was used in the likes of the Environmental Farming Scheme.

It means that in future, NI farmers should receive payments which more than cover the costs associated with delivering environmental measures.

“We have many environmental issues to address, and we need to consider how we can do this to ensure that agri environment or farming for nature becomes an enterprise within the whole farm,” Agnew said.

The new agri-environment package, which DAERA is considering re-naming as the farming for nature package, will form a “central plank” of future agricultural policy in NI, according to Agnew.

However, it is becoming clear that other elements of new farm support in NI will also have a strong environmental focus.

Area payment

The DAERA official said recipients of the new area-based resilience payment will need to meet baseline environmental standards as a follow on from current cross compliance rules.

“It will be linked to the planned soil and [Light Detection and Ranging] survey of NI and will require associated nutrient planning,” she said in a presentation to the Institute of Agricultural Management.

Likewise, requirements will be attached to headage payments for suckler cows and breeding ewes.

“These will be designed for the development of these sectors, driving better economic and environmental performance. We will explore how a proposed genetics and livestock data programme could be linked to this measure to accelerate the rate of improvement,” Agnew said.

More details of future agricultural policy for NI, including proposed payments rates for the area-based resilience scheme, are expected to be included in a consultation document published by DAERA in early November.

UFU support

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt also spoke at the online event and was broadly supportive of the proposals that were set out by Rosemary Agnew.

He argued that new schemes will need to do more than support farm incomes if funding from the British Treasury is to be secured into the long-term.

“The direction of travel is sustainable farming, and we all have to get on that ladder. To get our payments in the future, we will have to prove that we are going one step up that ladder all the time,” Chestnutt said.