UUP Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has welcomed the Minister of Agriculture’s commitment to explore the Scottish Executives Grants Scheme when planning future local capital grants for farmers.
Mrs Dobson has raised this issue on a number of occasions and wrote directly to the Minister in December to urge her to “investigate the Scottish schemes with a view to ensuring fairness for Northern Ireland’s farmers which will enable them to modernise their industries whilst at the same time planning and building for the future.”
The issue first came to light following a visit to three Scottish dairy farmers by Mrs Dobson’s constituent, dairy farmer Charlie Weir. “Each farm which Charlie visited had been the recipient of Scottish Executive capital grants and had lately completed some large scale development projects.” said Mrs Dobson “Concerned that this grant scheme will put the Northern Ireland dairy industry at a competitive disadvantage to its Scottish counterparts, Mr Weir raised the issue in the local agricultural press and directly with me.”
In her reply to the Upper Bann MLA the Minister acknowledged that her Department’s Farm Modernisation Programme (FMP) is ‘a small capital grant programme’ and that ‘maximum financial support available to any one business is capped at a relatively low level.’
Mrs Dobson said “I welcome the fact that the Minister in her response to my letter has agreed to ask her officials to ‘explore’ the Scottish grant scheme with officials in Scotland.
“Farmers who have approached me about this issue feel that if capital grants for farm modernisation and development, such as new buildings and equipment, were available it would ensure that the industry remains an attractive job prospect for our young farmers.
“DARD must ensure that our local producers are not threatened with competitive disadvantage as a direct result of farm modernisation carried out in other jurisdictions. We have a duty to protect the future of the Northern Ireland agri-food industry and at the same time to ensure that it is continually modernising and equipped to meet the challenges of the future.