Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA, has warned that local farmers are being left behind on capital support.
He was commenting after it was revealed that the European Commission and European Investment Bank are working up plans to develop a loan product to support capital investment by young farmers.
Northern Ireland’s own capital scheme – the Farm Business Investment Scheme – was riddled with delays and there remains huge doubt as to whether there will even be a second tranche of the larger Tier 2 support.
Robin Swann said:
“It is now almost six years on from when the Agri-food Strategy Board announced plans for an ambitious £250m Farm Business Improvement Scheme.
“Whilst the two tranches of the first Tier – which offered grants up to £30,000 - operated relatively smoothly, the handling of Tier 2 was derisory.
“Even though the first batch of applicants to this larger up to £250,000 grant had to submit their applications by in February 2017, I am aware that there are still to this day some of those eligible farm businesses who were accepted and who have not received a single penny.
“Only until these ongoing delays are sorted out, farmers have little confidence that they will be looking towards a more competently administered second tranche of Tier 2 anytime soon.
“In fact it’s looking increasingly likely that farmers won’t receive anything remotely near the level of £250m support they had previously been promised. Of course the ongoing absence of an Executive at Stormont will only make it even easier for previous commitments such as this to be dropped.
“Now to exacerbate the frustration being felt locally I am aware that in recent weeks the European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has been looking at the idea of a young farmer loan scheme. Whilst albeit not a grant scheme, a loan – supported by the European Investment Bank – would still be a major support in getting competitive rates at a time when local banks are showing some hesitation in offering large scale borrowing.
“It is very likely that by the time this loan scheme is developed the UK will have left the EU, so it is essential that in order to ensure local farmers are not any further left behind DAERA must get its act together on delivering the full slate of future FBIS support.”