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A decision to axe ANC (Areas of Natural Constraint) payments has been criticised as a direct attack on hill farmers by South Down MP Chris Hazzard.

Mr Hazzard said “The purpose of the ANC payment was to help redress the challenging environmental, topographical and soil conditions that farmers experience in the hills compared to their counterparts in lowland areas.

“It was an important supplement here in South Down that helped pay for bills such as fertiliser or animal feed. As a result of decisions made by the DUP Minister in 2016, hill farmers will not receive the ANC payment from this year.

“This has caused a lot of anger in the farming community and during the past year Sinn Féin has been engaging with the Equality Commission regarding the impact of this decision.

“We believe the decision to axe the ANC may be a breach of the department’s Equality Scheme and should be overturned.

“The withdrawal of ANC is having a devastating impact on farmers across South Down - especially in the Mournes and parts of Slieve Croob.  We have seen in recent days, the department’s own figures on the number of suckler cows recorded at its lowest number in the north since 1998. The withdrawal of ANC payment is contributing to this situation, resulting in a loss of income for farmers."

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