Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has called on the Minister of Agriculture to review the current capital grant schemes available for farmers in Northern Ireland.
She made her call after speaking to a number of concerned farmers who have told her of the apparent inequity between the capital support offered by DARD compared to the support offered by the equivalent Departments in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.
Following calls in The Farming Life from Waringstown Dairy Farmer Charlie Weir, Mrs Dobson has written directly to the Agriculture Minister seeking clarification in terms of all capital grant support offered to farmers across Northern Ireland over each of the last four years.
Speaking yesterday Mrs Dobson said “Charlie is a constituent of mine and a neighbouring farmer and his points regarding the availability of funding in Scotland as opposed to Northern Ireland are well made.
“I was very interested to hear that Scottish Executive makes grants of up to a quarter of a million pounds available to help farmers there with the modernisation and development of their farms, and whilst I appreciate Northern Ireland’s current budgetary constraints, I do believe that in the long-term to further promote our agri-food industry DARD must review the support it currently has available for businesses here.
“There are many farmers across Northern Ireland who would dearly love to invest and modernise their farms but in the present financial climate they simply do not have the available capital.”
Mr Weir highlighted a recent visit to Scotland in which he visited three modern dairy farms. Each farm had been the recipient of Scottish Executive grants and had recently completed large scale capital development projects. He is concerned that will put the Northern Ireland dairy industry at a competitive disadvantage to its Scottish counterpart.
“Following Charlie’s comments in the Farming Life I have been approached by many people who share his views” said the Upper Bann MLA “and want to see more assistance coming from DARD for the Northern Ireland dairy industry.
“One constituent would like to see support put in place by DARD as this would enable his son to come home to farm. He feels that if there were grants for farm development, such as new buildings and equipment, it would encourage young farmers to pick up the reins and remain within the industry.
“The local agri-food industry is one of the few growth areas within our economy and we must do all we can to encourage further modernisation and growth and with the average age of our local farmers coming close to fifty nine we do need to turn our thoughts and efforts towards the future.
“To that end I am calling upon the Minister to take a leaf out of Scotland’s book, to carry out an evaluation into the support which is currently offered to our local farmers to modernise their industries and enable them to plan and build for the future.”