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In 2015, my Department provisionally approved applications to the regional reserve and the young farmer payment from young farmers who had become head of holding and were not in a position to provide all the required evidence to support their applications. My Department has sought the necessary information in recent weeks in order to prevent any delays to the 2016 payments. I am pleased that many young farmers have provided the information required. My officials have assessed the information speedily and have issued advance payments to those who have satisfied the criteria. Where there are outstanding issues with an individual’s young farmer payment and where possible, my Department has made an advance payment on the other elements of their claim. I strongly encourage all farmers yet to provide the required evidence to do so as soon as possible to ensure that full payment is issued to them in December.
I thank the Member for his question. Of the 1,780 successful applications in 2015, 593 have been paid an advance young farmer payment in October. Advance payments on the basic payment scheme and greening have been issued to 548 applicants with outstanding issues around the young farmer element of their payment. Therefore, 1,141 young farmer applicants from 2015 have received an advance payment for one or more elements of their claim in 2016. The majority of the remaining applications from 2015 have yet to provide the evidence necessary to make their young farmer payment in 2016. A small number with evidence supplied are yet to be assessed. Of the 746 new applications for the young farmer payment and/or young farmer regional reserve in 2016, 458 have been paid an advance payment. The remaining applications are being assessed or have been rejected.
I thank the Member for his question. Each year, there is an opportunity for new entrants to apply if they meet the criteria. I want to ensure that our agrifood sector is growing and is sustainable in order to encourage young people to get involved in the agriculture sector. I want to see a future for them in the industry. You will be aware that the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster and the Ulster Farmers' Union have been doing a considerable amount of work on succession planning. I look forward to having a meeting with them in the near future to see how we can assist them with that project. You will also be aware that additional weighting is given and will be given to young farmers in the capital element of the farm business improvement scheme to encourage those young people to get involved in farming and invest in their business going forward. It is critical that all of us support the farming industry and that those young people see a future in it and are encouraged to become involved.
I thank the Member for his question. He will be aware that my Department has been working alongside Westminster on what future support for farmers might look like. He will be aware that I met Andrea Leadsom last week. I also hosted George Eustice in Northern Ireland. That visit allowed George Eustice to meet industry representatives and stakeholders and gave him an opportunity to look at the vision that he has for any potential support. It is about looking not at what we currently have but at what we could have. It is not about picking something off the shelf and applying it to Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom; it is about having a model that is bespoke to our needs here. There are ongoing conversations between me, my Department and Westminster on what a support system might look like.
Will the Minister undertake to look at the departmental guidance on the young farmers' scheme, particularly with regard to the bizarre and seemingly unnecessary stipulations on partnership agreements? For some unknown reason, there is a stipulation that, although one is head of holding, one has to consent if a partner wishes to leave the partnership. That is unheard of in partnership law, yet it has become an obstacle to some young farmers who otherwise qualify qualifying for the payment.
I thank the Member for his question. I am aware that that is a particular issue for Mr Allister and one of his constituents. I am happy to meet him and officials to discuss the issue and will make arrangements with him to do so.
I thank the Minister for her remarks so far. Is she aware that there is a great deal of anger amongst many young farmers about their applications and what they see as unwarranted checks on paperwork? Will she explain why her Department waited so long and so close to the issuing of this year's payments before contacting young farmers and asking them for the appropriate documentation?
I thank the Member for his question. I am aware of the issue, which has been raised with me on a number of occasions. Very recently, I attended the Fermanagh group meeting of the Ulster Farmers' Union, and a number of young farmers raised the issue in the body of the meeting and spoke to me privately about it. I have raised with officials the issue of why the request was so late in the year. My understanding is that they wrote to relevant applicants in September, as they were unable to get the required evidence earlier to meet the deadline for receipt of the advance payments. I understand that a number of them have been able to get their information in on time and have been able to qualify for advance payments in October.