The Ulster Farmers' Union's President's Area Meeting took place in Enniskillen on Monday evening.

President, David Brown had a short distance to travel to his home county meeting as he joined up with the remainder of the Presidential team, Deputy Presidents, William Irvine and John McLenaghan along with Wesley Aston, Chief Executive.

The usual topics of Bovine TB, future agricultural support, Ammonia Strategy and the NI Protocol were raised along with some different issues.

The questions provided some insight to the changing emphasis on farms.

Among these was energy support and future renewable resources.

UFU speakers said there were concerns that the UK government may have disregarded the importance of local farming and food production, by dismissing farms as high-energy businesses in it’s review of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. This would have the potential to impact local food security and would be detrimental for farm families.

The new Energy Bills Discount Scheme, starting in April 2023 and continuing for a year, will be available to everyone on a non-domestic contract including businesses and voluntary sector organisations. High energy business that are ‘particularly vulnerable to high energy prices due to their energy intensive and trade exposure’ will receive a higher level of support, subject to a maximum discount.

Deputy President, John McLenaghan, said some high energy farms such as dairy farms with milk cooling systems or robotic milkers and potato growers with expensive coldstores, would benefit from support.

He said they were working on the issue to get farms included.

Maximum discounts for EBDS are set at:

Electricity - £19.61 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a price threshold of £302 per MWh

Gas - £6.97 per MWh with a price threshold of £107 per MW

Meanwhile maximum discounts and price threshold for energy intensive sectors are:

Electricity - £89 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a price threshold of £185 per MWh

Gas - £40 per MWh with a price threshold of £99 per MWh

If farms are not correctly classified as high energy businesses, farmers will be left to endure a significant loss.

John said that unfortunately, RHI left a terrible legacy but Northern Ireland was the only region that did not have any form of energy support.

Another contentious issues was BVD. David Brown said DAERA was lobbied by the Union many years ago to adopt measures similar to those in the Republic of Ireland but failed to take the steps and now NI has been left behind.

"DAERA has failed farmers on BVD," he said, explaining how breeders wanting to sell their stock to farmers in the Republic, would have to prove they are BVD free.

A question was also raised if it was correct that DAERA may set the minimum education standard for head of farm holdings as Level 3 qualifications. Currently the minimum standard is the Level 2 Agricultural Business Operations course which is available at the three CAFRE campuses over the winter months. The Union said they have strongly opposed any idea of making Level 3 the minimum.

Discussing agricultural support which is scheduled to be introduced in new measures from 2024 onwards, David Brown explained that 17 per cent or £50m of the support money totalling around £300m will be skimmed off and paid for beef support measures including suckler cow headage, calving heifers and a beef payment, all based on targets over a four-year period.

For example, the age at which heifers would be calving and eligible for support payments were reducing from 34 to 29 months over a four-year period and the calving interval would have to be reduced from 415 days in year 1 to 385 days in year 4 to be eligible for payments which could be in the region of £100 per head.

Beef slaughter payments would also be paid for killing at maximum ages of 34 months in year 1 reducing to 29 months in year 4 for payments of about £30-£40 per head. He said it was a ways of pushing farms to be more efficient and to reduce carbon emissions.

There was a good turnout of farmers at the meeting.

#Agri businesses must be eligible for higher energy relief, says UFU

Friday, 13 January, 2023