Stormont’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) committee chairman, Declan McAleer, has said that the future agricultural policy proposals published by Minister for Agriculture, Edwin Poots, lack details in key areas.

"The agriculture minister recently published a consultation on future agriculture policy proposals centred around the themes of productivity, environmental sustainability, improved resilience and a responsive supply chain," McAleer commented.

"Whilst the policy does provide details of the proposed resilience and headage measures, it lacks concrete proposals in areas such as the environmental measures and generational renewal.

The document does recognise the under-representation of women in the industry. However, there are no proposals made as to how this imbalance can be redressed.

"I am also deeply concerned about how this new policy will be funded given that we have been taken out of the EU," McAleer continued.

"Whilst I note that the department proposes to modulate the area-based pot to fund a headage scheme, there is a lack of clarity as to how the agri-environment, investment and generational renewal measures will be supported."

Single farm payment in agricultural policy

The Sinn Féin representative went on to state that the £300 million single farm payment budget, referenced in the Poots' policy discussion document, is not guaranteed by Westminster beyond the current mandate which ends in 2024.

McAleer further explained: "This introduces even more uncertainty for future planning on top of the other Brexit-related challenges such as the impact of international trade deals on the industry locally.

Had we remained in the EU in accordance with the democratic wishes of the people here, we would have had the £300 million single farm payment budget guaranteed for at least the next seven years, plus a separate Pillar II budget for the other measures," he added.

McAleer claimed that at this stage, NI would have submitted its CAP Strategic Plan to the EU Commission, and therefore would be in a better position to support the sector in making decisions in a more secure financial environment.

"Through the AERA committee, I will be asking the department [of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - DAERA] to elaborate on [its] draft plans, and I strongly encourage farmers and everyone with an interest in agriculture, environment and rural affairs to have their say in the consultation before the February 15 deadline," McAleer concluded.