Sinn Féin MLA, Declan McAleer, has said that small farm businesses in Northern Ireland (NI) must have their voices heard when it comes to any agri-reform proposals.

He was responding to plans recently announced by the NI's agriculture minister, Edwin Poots to brings forward agriculture policy-reform proposals.

"Farmers have been waiting anxiously to find out what policies the minister plans to put in place in the wake of Brexit and the loss of EU funding," the MLA said.

"One of Minister Poots' proposals is to increase the minimum claim size from the current 3ha to 10ha. 

“This is bad news for up to 5,000 small farms, who would not be eligible for the proposed area-based resilience payment, which is the successor to the single farm payment. 

“It would put them out of business,” he said.

He explained:

"This would be devastating for the businesses impacted and the local economy.

“In most cases the only option to secure planning permission in rural areas is access to an active farm business number.  

"If implemented, this decision would have a severe impact on young families wanting to set up home in the country with the added impact of depopulation on schools, shops, sport clubs and other local services.”

McAleer is also concerned that there are no plans to introduce a sheep support scheme or re-introduce the Area of Natural Constraint hill-farm payment scheme.

He said:

“Failure to include these in the new proposals will have a particularly detrimental impact on small hill farms and on our ability to compete with farmers in the south who are supported by such schemes.   

"The minister's plans also makes no concrete proposals on generational renewal and, despite the vast under-representation of women in farm-management roles, there are no proposals as to how this imbalance could be redressed."   

Mr McAleer concluded:

"I am also extremely disappointed that Minister Poots did not agree to my request for an extension to the consultation period.  

"I believe that six weeks is an insufficient time to give this policy full consideration, particularly given that it was launched days before Christmas when people were pre-occupied with the festive season.   

"Sinn Féin has made a strong response to the consultation and we will continue to challenge these proposals due to the hugely detrimental impact they could have on small farms and rural communities."