Muir warns of budget pressures

Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir has warned of “difficult choices” on the back of the budget coming to Stormont departments for the current financial year.

On issues around Lough Neagh, he said DAERA might end up “doing less, rather than more,” and if there isn’t the funding for new staff, the Department “may struggle” to distribute farm support money.

“Finally, it is important that compensation levels for bovine TB be funded. Otherwise, the budget will force me into taking decisions that I do not wish to take,” Minister Muir told MLAs in the Stormont Assembly chamber on Monday.

DAERA clarifies transition to new area payment

The current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) will be replaced with a new Farm Sustainability Transition Payment (FSTP) in 2025, ahead of a full rollout of a Farm Sustainability Payment (FSP) in 2026, DAERA has said. From 2025 onwards, the minimum claim size increases from 3ha to 5ha, while those with no agricultural activity in 2020 and 2021 will not be eligible for FSTP in 2025 and will not receive new FSP entitlements.

Those excluded include landowners who sold grass/grass silage, or who simply kept land in good agricultural condition.

“These businesses will have until the closure of the entitlement trading window in May 2025 to sell their BPS entitlements, otherwise they will cease to have a value,” the Department confirmed.

FQAS fees to rise

The board of the NI farm quality assurance scheme (FQAS) has confirmed that membership fees will increase on 1 June 2024 from £75 to £95 (ex. VAT). The last increase was in 2021, when £15 was added to the fee, taking it to £75.

Despite those increases, the FQAS has been dipping into its reserves to keep the cost to farmers down, but these reserves are now at a level where they cannot be depleted any further.

“It is essential that FQAS is sufficiently funded to ensure that it can sustainably deliver for the beef and lamb sector going forward,” said Colin Smith, the chair of the FQAS industry board. He also confirmed that throughput fee to processors has been increased by 20%.

New presidential team at YFCU

The AGM of the Young Farmers Clubs’ of Ulster (YFCU) last Saturday saw Richard Beattie from Finvoy YFC elected as the new president, with Kristina Fleming from Ballywalter YFC taking on the role of deputy president. The four positions of vice president went to re-elected members Matthew Livingstone from Collone YFC and Rachel Smith from Moycraig YFC, with Joyce Allen from Moneymore YFC and Natalie Burrows from Cappagh YFC taking on the role for the first time.

Murphy plans to close down RHI

Economy Minister Conor Murphy is drawing up plans to shut down the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). In response to a written question from North Antrim MLA Jim Allister, Minister Murphy confirmed that a decision on the future of RHI requires approval from the NI Executive.

“I am working towards securing the agreement of the Executive to close the scheme,” he said.