Northern Ireland

Farmers' fears over Europe's plans to overhaul CAP

cows

The European Commission has announced plans to overhaul the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

CAP delivers more than £230m a year to farmers and rural communities across Northern Ireland.

Farmers are worried about the plan to freeze the CAP budget and to redistribute funds.

The Ulster Farmers Union said the commission's proposals would restrict rather than encourage local farmers' potential to produce high quality food.

The main changes include introducing a new basic payments scheme, replacing the current single farm payments from 2013.

The aim is to reduce discrepancies between farmers and between member states.

The worry for Northern Ireland farmers is that they may lose out under this levelling process.

The freezing of the overall budget will also mean inflation will eat into the value of the new payments.

Another important change is that CAP money will be paid only to active farmers.

The detail still has to be worked out, but it could mean thousands of local landowners lose the annual payments they currently receive.

The commission's plan places greater emphasis on farming in harmony with the environment, but Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is concerned about the potential negative impact on the competitiveness of the agricultural industry.

With two thirds of European farmers over 55 years of age, the commission is proposing a new start-up assistance scheme to help young farmers get established.

The commission said its plan aims to strengthen the competitiveness, sustainability and permanence of agriculture throughout the EU in order to secure a healthy and high-quality source of food for European citizens, preserve the environment and develop rural areas.