Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill, was asked for her assessment of cattle markets plans to charge £150 for cattle that have been moved more than four times – an issue of great concern to many farmers and their attempts to manage budgets. The Minister agreed on the gravity of the issue saying that she is “gravely concerned about how this new policy could impact on farmers”. Beef finishers who bought store cattle earlier in the year unaware of these plans would be most affected. The Minister responded quickly by meeting with the NI Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) yesterday morning (24 Feb 2014). She informed the officials that the proposed charges are unfair to employ at such short notice and was pleased to announce that a new proposal is on the table. It will now be discussed with farming unions and the markets and she is “hopeful that a practical solution to this issue can be found”.
Mrs O’Neill also provided the chamber with an update on the deployment of single farm payments in response to a question from Robin Swann. Since the payment window opened on December 1st 2013, 96.16% of payments have now been issued. While the Minister empathised with those who have yet to receive their payment she said that the significantly improved payment process “is a welcome boost to the farming industry” and promised that her Department is “working around the clock” to finalise the remaining payments. The process has been carried out four months quicker than last year and will be even more improved next year.
During the regular schedule of oral questions Mrs O’Neill also updated the House on the badger ‘test and vaccinate or remove’ study, flood defences at Beragh and the spread of Japanese Larch disease. During topical questions the Minister fielded members’ questions on horse cruelty in Clogher Valley, the plight of fisherman due to the extreme weather and the Clipper round-the-world race that will be coming to Derry in June.