Measures to encourage the active farming of land are working, the Agriculture Minister told MHKs.
Ramsey MHK Leonard Singer claimed in the House of Keys that ‘gentlemen farmers’ were pocketing up to £150,000 in government subsidies.
But Environment, Food and Agriculture Minister Richard Ronan said he believes a new ‘active farmer’ provision in the newly-rebranded Agricultural Development Scheme – formerly the Countryside Care Scheme – is already showing signs it is having an impact since it was introduced this year.
Mr Ronan told MHKs that the application period is currently still open and so no one had yet been paid under the scheme where the new active farmer criteria apply.
As of last Monday, some 394 applications had been received but not yet processed for eligibility. The application period closes on June 8.
There were a total of 401 eligible applicants who applied in the 2015 scheme year.
Following publicity of the active farmer criteria, during the February application period DEFA received about 50 applications for the transfer of historic entitlements.
‘Therefore, whilst this is too early to be clear, we believe that there is a strong indication that the policy is having a welcome impact and justifies the members’ call for this recent change,’ said the Minister.
Mr Singer said he fully supported grants for full-time farmers who contribute to the economy through export or production for local consumption. But he asked: ‘Will landowners who are not active farmers still be receiving the many thousands of pounds – which we believe can be up to £150,000 – for keeping their land neat and tidy?’
Mr Ronan said the call for active farming was driven by the industry itself. ‘I do agree the money should be focused on the elements of the industry that help contribute to the economy.’