Arlene Foster MLA and Diane Dodds MEP Photo: © Michael Fisher

Arlene Foster MLA and Diane Dodds MEP Photo: © Michael Fisher

Apart from weddings and large-scale social events, Corick House Hotel in Clogher has hardly ever been so packed for a public meeting. Around 250 farmers from the Clogher Valley and Fermanagh attended the second in a series of roadshows on CAP reform, organised by the DUP Member of the European Parliament, Diane Dodds. They had expected around 80 and some latecomers had to sit outside the room to follow the proceedings. One of the first people I met at the hotel was my colleague from the Guild of Agricultural Journalists (Northern Ireland), Brian Donaldson of the Impartial Reporter. Now if only our William Carleton Society summer school in August (which we were planning tonight at Corick) could attract such a crowd this year to the same room…

The MEP was joined by senior DARD officials, who outlined the detail around how the new Common Agricultural Policy will be implemented in Northern Ireland. The meetings will move on to Templepatrick, Portadown and Portrush over the next two weeks and consist of a question and answer session which allows an opportunity for individual concerns to be addressed. One farmer had concerns about the effect of flooding on good farming land caused when waters rose up to fifteen feet in the Colebrooke River. He wondered if it would affect his grant application, if an inspector from the Department came around to check on the extent of his land immediately after the flooding. The answer involved something about force majeure coming into play.

Diane Dodds MEP

Diane Dodds MEP

Announcing the meetings, Diane Dodds said: “As someone who has been heavily involved in the reform of the common agricultural at a European level and one of its greatest critics the outworkings are now reaching farmers on the ground. I have organised in conjunction with DARD, a range of meetings to update and clarify for the implementation of the policy will take effect in Northern Ireland.

“The reform of the common agricultural policy will be the main emphasis for these meetings, given the upcoming single application deadline in May 2015 and ongoing decisions which will ultimately have a lasting impact on the farm business for years to come.

“During the course of the meetings, there will be a presentation on the upcoming requirements of the new CAP scheme, and within this a wide range of topics will be covered, including the basic payment scheme, active farmer definition, eligibility criteria, greening, young farmer and national schemes, cross compliance and the farm business improvement scheme.

Diane Dodds MEP addressing the packed room at Corick House Hotel Photo: © Michael Fisher

Diane Dodds MEP addressing the packed room at Corick House Hotel Photo: © Michael Fisher

“I also recognise that farmers have individual questions and I will ensure that a question and answer session is available. I want to provide an opportunity for farmers to have as much information as possible in a timely fashion to make decisions and prepare for the upcoming changes. DARD has now received clarity and made decisions on the majority of the reformed CAP implementation and have produced guidance. Hence why I feel this is a unique opportunity to gain additional clarity.

“I would strongly urge the farming community to make use of this opportunity, which will help prepare for the single application form in May 2015,” she said.

A farmer asks a question about flooding at the CAP roadshow Photo: © Michael Fisher

A farmer asks a question about flooding at the CAP roadshow Photo: © Michael Fisher

Diane Dodds was joined at the event by her party colleagues Lord Morrow and the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster. The DUP point out that agriculture is the back-bone to much more than the Northern Ireland economy; it is the fabric of local communities. Agri-food is a key driver of the NI economy. It sustains an estimated 100,000 jobs and contributes some £5 billion in sales. It is also a key exporter of produce, with some £2.6 billion in external sales.

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