There are likely to be contentious issues ahead for farmers as the future of the Single Farm Payment is to be debated beyond 2013 and the future shape of Less Favoured Areas are also to be reviewed, according to the Ulster Farmers' Union.

There was intense discussion on these topics at the UFU's President's meeting in Enniskillen on Thursday night. Despite the difficult road conditions there was a good attendance of members at the meeting which was also attended by the full Presidential team comprising the UFU President, Graham Furey; two Deputy Presidents, John Thompson and Harry Sinclair, and the UFU's chief executive, Clarke Black.

Also in attendance was Mr. David Mark who heads the Countryside Services Ltd, the business arm of the Ulster Farmers' Union and which is delivering the grant aid for some of the grant schemes under the Rural Development Programme.

Another challenging subject for farmers is the mapping of fields to ensure their eligibility to their full entitlement of the Single Farmers' Payment. Because of the importance of this, the Ulster Farmers' Union group office in Enniskillen will be holding a clinic on Monday, January 18 for farmers to check their maps against claims.

UFU President, Graham Furey, said it was revealed that when EU auditors visited Northern Ireland, they felt DARD was being too lenient in terms of penalising farmers for not complying fully with SFP requirements.

"We had felt DARD had came out too heavy handed," said the President, despite the fact that the EU thought they had not gone far enough.

He said there was an onus on farmers to ensure that all recent buildings on the farm, new roadways, etc, had to be taken off their farm maps before submitting SFP forms.

The future of the SFP is to be debated in the next few years as a result of the CAP review from 2013.

There was some discussion about the area payment made to landowners who were not active farmers. However the UFU Presidential team was urged to secure all money that at present came to farmers under the Single Farm Payment system.

Mr. Harold Hamilton said farmers had built the SFP into their incomes and if they did not secure as much as possible of the SFP monies, it will be badly missed on farms and farming would recover.

Another contentious issue is the LFA review which is currently ongoing. At present, 70 per cent of land in Northern Ireland is designated as Less Favoured and of that, 50 per cent is Severely Disadvantaged and 20 per cent is Disadvantaged.

One farmer whose farm had been regarded as lowland in the 1970's and was subsequently re-designated as Disadvantaged wanted to make sure that the UFU will be working to include all that land in Northern Ireland's case in the review. The President stated that they will endeavour to secure as much as possible of the existing Less Favoured Areas but that rather than the current two-tier system of SDA and DA, Europe was requesting just one system and the review would be based on different criteria than previous.

Farmers were also encouraged to take up assistance under some of the programmes in the Rural Development Programme Axis 1 measures which include Family Farm Options for items such as Re-skilling and Up-skilling where there were good opportunities for grants of up to £1,000 and mentoring programmes for the farm family.