Confirmation in recent days of further support being allocated to the sheep and tillage sectors in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) is just another indication of the increasing disparity in farm support across the island.

In NI the budget for direct payments has remained static for nearly 20 years, except for some variation in Euro Sterling exchange rates. Back in 2009, NI farmers received £292m. If that figure had kept up with inflation, it should be around £450m now.

Meanwhile in ROI, as well as direct payments, there seems to be a never-ending plethora of schemes designed to support farmers, funded by the EU and Irish government.

In the tillage sector there is already a straw incorporation scheme worth €10m annually, through which an individual farmer can receive up to a €10,000. In addition, last Saturday, Irish farm Minister Charlie McConalogue announced a €100/ha payment, to be paid on all crops to be harvested in 2024.

Meanwhile in NI, no compensation was forthcoming for potato and vegetable growers who saw fields flooded last autumn. Beyond that, persistent rain has caused significant damage to winter crops, while many did not actually get into the ground at all.

Targeted support

In the Irish sheep sector, a new €15m national sheep welfare scheme is available to farmers in 2024, paying €8 per ewe. When added to the ongoing sheep improvement scheme there is €20/ewe of targeted support this year.

The contrast to the situation in NI is stark, where both arable growers and sheep farmers are seeing their direct payments cut by 9% to help fund new beef schemes. Next year, all direct payments will be reduced by 17% once a new suckler cow measure is fully in place.

While the logic behind the two beef schemes is valid, farmers with no cattle have every right to feel very aggrieved.

When he took up his post, Minister Muir was quick to announce reviews into issues such as environmental governance and bovine TB. He should also order a review into farm support across this island. The playing field is far from level.