Ex-farmer Mr George Gillespie last week became the first landowner in Northern Ire-land to receive the golden handshake under the Ministry of Agriculture’s Farm Structure (Payment to Outgoers) Scheme, which was introduced in October last year.
The 54-year old Tyrone man, who now resides at 35 Sunningdale, Omagh, was one of eight landowners to receive cheques from Magnet House, Belfast, headquarters of the Ministry’s amalgamation operations.
Mr Gillespie retired from farming three years ago owing to ill-health. Last Thursday morning he received a £1,505 cheque, a grant from the Ministry for relinquishing his 63-acre farm at Lisnagirr, Mountjoy, near Omagh, under the Outgoers Scheme.
Under the scheme, the type of grant available depends on the age of the person concerned. For those under the age of 55, like Mr Gillespie, a lump sum of £1,000 for farms up to 10 acres, plus £10 per acre above 10 acres and up to 110 acres is paid.
Mr Gillespie’s farm was let for two years but lay vacant last year. “A friend mentioned the amalgamation schemes to me and I applied,” he told me. “An offer of £5,000 was made for the farm some time ago but I have fared considerably better under the scheme.”
With the Ministry’s grant of £1,505, plus the £4,700 purchase price of the farm, Mr Gillespie received a total of £6,205.
The purchaser was 27-year-old Mr Noel Moore, whose 89 acre farm at Glassmullagh, Omagh, lies close to the Gillespie holding.
Mr Gillespie is pleased with the outcome of the transaction. “To my mind,” he said, “such a scheme was needed in Northern Ireland and I have no doubt that it will benefit a great number of people.”
Mr Moore runs a suckling herd on the former Gillespie holding and has plans for an expansion programme. “I am satisfied with the deal,” he said. “My farm has now been boosted to 152 acres.”
It is understood that by far the biggest number of inquiries received at Magnet House relate to the Farm Structure (Payment to Outgoers) Scheme.
Many of those who have applied are people in or around retiring age, some of whom would in any case be giving up farming. There are few “young potential outgoers”.
The farm amalgamation schemes have aroused considerable interest in Northern Ireland and a high proportion of the outgoers’ inquiries have come from areas where there are a large number for small, non-viable units.
Grants under the Outgoers Scheme are paid to those who give up their farms for approved amalgamations or who sell to the Minister to improve farm structure.
The Farm Amalgamations and Boundary Adjustments Scheme offers 50 per cent grant towards practically all the expenses, apart from the cost of buying land, incurred in amalgamating small farms.