AgriFood Strategy Board (AFSB) Chairman Tony O’Neill has told AgriLand that he plans meeting both the North’s agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and her Enterprise colleague Arlene Foster as a matter of priority to discuss the specific funding arrangements that will be put in place to pump prime his organisation’s Going for Growth strategy. The measures contained with the plan include a £250m sterling farm investment programme.

He added: “The question that must be answered as a matter of priority is: where will the money come from to facilitate these measures?

“Minister O’Neill had let it be known that a proportion of the monies that were to be transferred between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the new Common Agricultural Policy arrangement would be set aside to meet this need. However, this is now up in the air in the wake of the Judicial Review on this issue, which was heard in Belfast last week.

“There has been broad acceptance of the proposals contained within the strategy. I will be telling both ministers that, if necessary, the executive must find the money required to fund the Going for Growth Strategy.”

Responding to this development Ulster Farmers’ Union Policy Director Wesley Aston confirmed his organisation’s full support for the Going for Growth strategy.

“But using Pillar 1 monies to fund these measures is the wrong approach to take. We fundamentally disagree with the principle of taking money away from every farmer to meet the needs of a few ,” he stressed.

“The Going for Growth strategy can be adequately funded courtesy of the next Rural Development Programme. But, if need be, the executive will have to come up with the required finances from its own resources.

A spokesperson from the DUP pointed out that the party broadly supported the broad thrust of the Going for Growth strategy.

“A paper on the proposed out workings of the strategy is with the Executive at the present time. And, no doubt, the Ministers will assess each proposals contained within the strategy on its specific business merit. “

Commenting on the future Rural Development Programme funding arrangements, Minister O’Neill has stated the executive will have to come up to the mark and make available funds to bridge the deficit which will support the farming sector, enhance the environment and meet the needs of rural communities.

She added: “I have worked tirelessly to develop the farming and wider sector, driving growth in the sector, ensuring good environmental outcomes, and investing in rural infrastructure. This demonstrates to those who share my disappointment at the funding outcome, that I will continue to balance the need to finance the development of the wider rural economy,” competitiveness in the farming industry and the environment. We need to grow the farming and wider rural communities together.”