Declan McAleer, MLA, invites your views on a Private Member’s Bill which he is currently developing to make an Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payment a legal requirement in line with existing legislative powers in Schedule 6 of the Agriculture Act 2020.

Previously the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O’Neill, announced an Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payment scheme in 2014 as a support mechanism for farms in severely disadvantaged areas, such as hill and upland farms. That ANC payment came under the 2014-2020 rural development programmes and was worth £20 million a year.

The creation of that ANC scheme was a clear recognition of the need for a targeted response in addressing inequalities in the system whereby, farms in areas of natural constraint, such as hill and upland farms, face higher production costs and have less agricultural opportunities. Such inequalities are recognized in the south of Ireland and Scotland, both of whom have ANC schemes, which continue.

The Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle Mcllveen closed the ANC scheme in 2018. Currently there is no ANC scheme in the North of Ireland.

The purpose of this ANC Bill will be to ‘compensate farmers for all, or part, of the additional costs and income foregone related to the constraints for agricultural production in the area concerned’. The need for this PMB arises from a need to:

·      alleviate the difficulties for farmers in Areas of Natural Constraints by way of reducing the burden of production costs;

·      address the impact of the reduction in agricultural opportunities for those farming in these designated areas;

·      better promote equality of opportunity for those farming in Areas of Natural Constraint

Designation of Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) involves applying eight biophysical criteria based on soil, climate and slope characteristics to eligible agricultural land. Areas identified as being constrained by at least one of the biophysical criteria are then mapped to a recognisable administrative unit such as a ward (LAU 2 level4) or at the level of another clearly delineated local unit which covers a single clear contiguous geographical area with a definable economic and administrative identity. If the administrative unit is assessed as having more than 60% of its eligible agricultural area being affected by at least one of the biophysical criteria, it is mapped at this primary stage as being an area of natural constraint (ANC).

In the North ANCs tend to be hill and upland farms where the land is unsuitable for dairy farms or beef cattle, so farmers there graze sheep and rear suckler cows which they will then sell to lowland farms. While upland farms are characterised by poor economic viability; household vulnerability and risk of isolation they are also a vital link in our food supply chain. Furthermore, ANC farms tend to have lower greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions compared with other livestock farms.

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* 1. Do you have experience of farming in Areas of Natural Constraint/upland farms?

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* 2. Do you believe that those farming in Areas of Natural Constraint/upland farms face additional challenges including higher production costs and less agricultural opportunities?

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* 3. Do you believe that those involved in agriculture in Areas of Natural Constraint/upland farms require additional support?

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* 4. Do you believe upland farm livestock is as significant a part of the red meat supply chain industry in the north as lowland farm livestock?

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* 5. Do you believe the re-introduction of an ANC payment for those involved in agriculture in Areas of Natural Constraint/upland farms would have a significant impact in alleviating production costs?

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* 6. Do you believe that ANC farmers have significant expertise required to manage these areas due to many years of experience of farming them?

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* 7. Do you believe there would be a significant social, economic and environmental in many local communities if ANC farmers were no longer able to farm?

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* 8. To what extent do you support the ambitions of the Bill?

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* 9. Do you believe that the financial impact of the bill will be;

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* 10. What is your experience of the cessation of funding to Areas of Natural Constraint/upland farms?

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* 11. In your experience, what impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on farm incomes?

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* 12. If you do NOT agree with the bill proposal

a)    Please outline why.
b)    What additional measure would convince you to agree?
c)    What alternative proposal would you support to tackle this policy objective?

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* 13. Have you any further comments in relation to the above questions or any other issues concerning the proposed PMB?

0 of 13 answered
 

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