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Kelly elected chair of Omagh District Council’s Agriculture Committee‏

3 March, 2009

Sinn Féin Councillor, Peter Kelly has outlined his priorities following his election as chairperson of Omagh District Council's Agriculture Committee. Councillor Kelly has been a hill farmer for all of his adult life and has an extensive knowledge of the many issues affecting the farming community.

Outlining his priorities for the upcoming year, Cllr Kelly said:

"The sustainability of farms remains a high priority during these difficult economic times. Many farmers, particularly small farmers are feeling the 'pinch', given the rising costs of fertiliser, meal and even diesel to operate farm machinery.

"The diary farmers, who are unable to get a decent price for their milk, are also feeling the economic squeeze. A lot of farmer's difficulties are compounded by the fact that many also have taken out bank loans to purchase machinery and keep the farm viable.

"In terms of the farm business, many farmers have been forced to diversify at huge cost to themselves so that they keep in line with EU Directives which make little or no sense to local farmers. One example is an attempt by the EU to electronically tag sheep which is not only costly but has no support amongst the farming community.

"In my role as chair of the committee I also intend to highlight the bureaucratic burden that is placed on farmers in trying to access funding to which they are entitled.

Councillor Kelly continued:

"Despite the challenges which lie ahead, there have been a number of welcome developments during the past number of months. For instance, confirmation by DARD that Omagh is one of the chosen locations for a DARD Direct office is of huge importance to the local farming community.

"In addition to this, we have seen the department roll out a scheme for farmers affected by flooding last August, and the first round of the Farm Modernisation Scheme last month was a welcome boost to the farming community.

"As chair of the committee, one of the first representations I intend to make to the Minister will be on how the Modernisation programme can be tailored to more effectively meet the needs of 'small farmers'.

"For instance, I will be lobbying the Minister to reduce the minimum funding threshold from the current level of £1,000 to £500. This would substantially reduce the farmer's contribution and enable him or her to purchase pieces of equipment to modernise their farm business.

"I also intend to ask the Minister to consider an extended list of eligible equipment that can be purchased through the scheme. I would be asking that the list be modified to include equipment which may be more suitable to small farmers." ENDS

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