The system of area-based payments to NI farmers is not being phased out, senior DAERA official Norman Fulton has confirmed.

“I don’t see it stopping completely within any reasonable time horizon, unless we get a really, really bad deal under the next funding period,” he said.

Speaking in Cookstown last week, Fulton explained that payment rates under the new area-based Farm Sustainability Payment will gradually reduce over the coming years as money is diverted into other schemes.

Initially, this will be for headage payments for suckler cows and beef cattle, although eventually the main use of diverted funding will be for a new agri environment scheme, known as Farming With Nature.

“Over time, you will see the value of the Farm Sustainability Payment fall. You need to look at what are the opportunities within the other elements of this programme […] and get some of that money back,” Fulton said

The DAERA official made clear that the rate that money will be diverted to Farming With Nature will be dependent on the demand among farmers for the new agri environment scheme.

He said there would eventually be a debate about the “appropriate balance” between money spent on the Farm Sustainability Payment and funding allocated to Farming With Nature.

“I am sure we will get to that debate at some point, probably towards the end of this decade, but its not a debate we need to have right now,” Fulton said.