In a public consultation in 2021, DAERA set out plans to increase the minimum claim size for an area-based support payment in NI from 3ha to 10ha, arguing that small farms have low levels of agricultural output and tend to avoid taking risks.

As a result, the Department questioned whether these farms should be in receipt of public money designed to help farms withstand shocks outside their control.

Most respondents to the 2021 consultation were against the proposal and in 2022, former DAERA Minister Edwin Poots opted for a compromise position of 5ha.

However, as reported on p6, it looks likely that DAERA will be back to the 3ha minimum claim size after members of the Stormont Agriculture committee made their views clear.


Except for specialist horticulture, it is questionable whether a farm of less than 5ha is any sort of viable business. But at the same time, there is little to be gained by increasing the minimum claim from 3ha to 5ha. DAERA’s own analysis suggests it would only free up around £2m annually.


Of more concern to farmers going forward is probably the number of conditions attached to future payments, whether it is participation in carbon footprinting, ruminant genetics or nutrient management planning.

However, it must be remembered that engaging with these initiatives will benefit most farm businesses.

Instead, the key issue is not what farmers might be required to do in future, but the potential shift of money from direct payments into new agri-environment schemes (Farming With Nature).

Historically, agri-environment schemes were paid out of a separate pot in the form of the EU Rural Development Programme. Funding a Farming With Nature package by cutting area-based payments to farmers is a fundamental shift in approach.

The current line from DAERA is that it will aim to make Farming With Nature a source of income / profit for farmers.

It sounds good in theory, but delivering that in practice will require a very innovative approach. Any costs incurred in the scheme effectively mean a cut in overall support.