Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development will support the dairy industry through the turbulence that may occur when milk quota limits end in 2015. That was the assurance from Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, during today’s question time. The milk quota was introduced in the EU in 1984 to address the problem of over-production but caps will be removed in 2015 meaning there will no longer be constraints on production (click here for more information on the milk quota system and here for more information on how the removal of caps may effect farmers). Mrs O’Neill believes “the dairy sector has the potential to grow further and to exploit the opportunities arising from the predicted expansion in world population”.

The Minister also provided an update on the reform of single farm payments (the agricultural support offered to farmers). An extensive public consultation began in October 2013 as the Minister seeks out all views on the matter. In response to Joanne Dobson’s criticism of the drawn-out process in coming to an agreement, Mrs O’Neill countered that “I will not be rushed into decisions.  We are talking about £2 billion of money.  I am not going to be rushed into a decision just to please people” adding that “The allocation of almost €2 billion of taxpayers’ money over the remainder of this decade has to be done carefully, wisely and fairly”. The Minister also assured that she is mindful of the 1 August 2014 deadline to notify the European Commission of our implementation plans, and it is my intention that we will be in a position to have an agreed CAP pillar 1 structure before that date.

Other Members were concerned that returning to a flat-rate distribution could have a devastating impact on farmers but the Minister assured the House that the views of all stakeholders will be carefully considered before any agreement is reached saying, “nobody has said that they did not have the ear of the Minister, because I made sure that my officials engaged at town hall meetings and at community centres”.

Also discussed during question time was the fisheries task force, the Going for Growth strategy and the relocation of DARD headquarters.

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