UUP MLA Robin Swann MLA has challenged the Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister to “make it her priority to speed up Single Farm Payments as our farming sector urgently requires this much-needed cash injection”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip, is a Past President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and a Past Chairman of the influential Rural Youth Europe organisation.
Mr Swann issued his challenge to the Farming Minister in a written question.
He asked “what steps she is taking to replicate the level of delivery her Department has had in processing Single Farm Payments applications through to payment, to that of Country Side Management applications?”
In her response to Assemblyman Swann, the Minister stated: “In January and February 2015, farm businesses which declared their intention to claim for the NI Countryside Management Scheme (NICMS) on the 2014 Single Application Form (SAF), will receive a claim pack, including a pre-populated claim form and a guide on how to complete the form.
“Farmers will be encouraged to return the form within two weeks to allow DARD to begin processing of payments as early as possible. It is anticipated that payments will commence in May 2015, with 90% of claimants to be paid by the end of July 2015, in line with 2013 payments.
“Legacy Countryside Management Payments, including the Countryside Management Scheme and the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme are issued throughout the year, with claims being sent out to scheme participants four weeks before the relevant claim date. At present approximately 94% of 2014 legacy claims have been processed for payment,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann added: “This rhetoric is all very fine from the Minister, but she must ensure her Department processes this documentation as soon as possible so that much-needed cash gets directly to our hard-pressed farmers, and that they are not penalisied unnecessarily.