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Post-Brexit agriculture plan will have 'serious impact' on NI farmers

MPs are warning that post-Brexit agriculture plans will have a "serious impact" on farms in Northern Ireland.

The Government's proposals will see farmers being paid for environmental work and sustainable food production.

The current scheme pays farmers based on the amount of land they farm.

The typically small farms in Northern Ireland rely on subsidies for survival.

NI Affairs Committee

A Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report said: "The Committee heard evidence that the UK Government's 'public money for public goods' proposal and its desire to improve farm efficiency, while broadly welcomed, was designed with England in mind and could have a serious impact on farms in Northern Ireland if the scheme is not modified to reflect the very different character of farming in Northern Ireland.

"The Committee urges the Government to revise its definition of public goods to include the survival of farms as 'essential rural assets', and to commit area payments beyond 2022, with small farms and those reliant on pasture and husbandry on marginal land particularly in mind."

The committee chairman, Andrew Murrison, said ministers had not adequately addressed issues facing Northern Ireland farmers.

The chairman urged the UK Government to provide clarity and confidence for the Northern Ireland agricultural sector by making plain how a post-Brexit agricultural policy for Northern Ireland will be devised if the political impasse continues into the New Year.

Smaller farms

The Committee expressed disappointment about Defra's "insufficient" approach to considering specific agricultural concerns in Northern Ireland and called for speedy action.

The predominance of smaller farms means that the sector is particularly reliant on direct financial support to maintain a steady income.

The Committee expressed concern at Defra's limited engagement with farmers in Northern Ireland.

Trade across the border

Almost £900 million worth of food and live animals were exported to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland last year.

A no-deal could affect that trade.

Much of Northern Ireland's agricultural workforce is drawn from the EU.

The Committee called on the Government to establish mechanisms to allow skilled workers access to Northern Ireland.

A Defra spokesperson said: "We are in close contact with counterparts in DAERA on the implications for farmers as we leave the European Union, including fortnightly meetings at an official level.

"We also fully recognise the differences between the needs of Northern Ireland's agriculture sector and that of other parts of the UK. That is why we support and embrace the principles of devolution."