In the last couple of weeks the local beef, sheep, and arable sectors have published proposals for future farm support in NI.
A dairy version should soon be available, and given that it is NI’s largest agricultural sector by output, it will be an important contribution to the debate.
But when it comes to numbers of farmers, beef, sheep and arable represent a significant majority, so the reports warrant serious consideration by DAERA.
The arable report sets the bar at 85%, which is approximately £100/acre
What must not happen is that all this work is forgotten in the months ahead, and replaced with lots of noise from single issue groups responding to formal public consultations.
Looking at the two reports, it is notable that both advocate for area-based payments to remain.
The beef and sheep sectors want to retain 70% of the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) budget, which is a payment around £80/acre.
The arable report sets the bar at 85%, which is approximately £100/acre.
The main reason for the difference between the two is that the beef and sheep sectors want 15% of BPS money diverted to coupled (headage) schemes linked to improved genetics.
However, both differ from the DAERA policy framework published in 2018.
It talks about a basic resilience payment set at a level to help farmers through periods of low prices, while at the same time not dampening the incentive to be efficient.
It had been thought that this payment would be around £30 to £50/acre, with the remaining budget diverted to the likes of agri-environment schemes.
Both reports suggest that various conditions are attached to getting payments
However, what is clear is that there is no great appetite for such a drastic cut to payments. Instead what is being proposed is to link area payments and efficient production together.
Both reports suggest that various conditions are attached to getting payments, including around minimum stocking rates, nutrient management planning or benchmarking.
That will bring extra hassle, but is also more likely to ensure it is active farmers who get the money, not landowners. It is the right approach.