NEW criteria for deciding what land is eligible for EU funding under the less favoured areas system could change the amount of money farmers receive, but it will not be introduced until 2014.
More than three quarters of Irish agricultural land is classified as being a less favoured area (LSA) and ensures 100,000 farmers are eligible for a share of the country’s e3.38 billion fund under the rural development programme 2007–2013.
The amount farmers receive per hectare of utilised agricultural land varies widely from e25 to e200 per hectare at present depending on the country, with farmers in Luxembourg receiving the most.
Following criticism of the scheme and the fact that many of the more than 100 criteria being used were now out of date, the commission has employed experts to review it.
They have identified eight soil and climate criteria as the basis for classifying areas eligible for payments because the land poses natural handicaps for farmers.
However, before drawing up legislation the commission says it needs more data to assess the feasibility of the criteria and has asked member states to test them by mid-October to see how it would affect their farmers.
Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel said the aim is to ensure that less favoured areas continue to be farmed to prevent environmental damage but the criteria need to be rationalised and the aid better targeted.
The Irish Farmers Association said since the new classification would not be introduced until 2014 Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith has time to protect existing areas.
IFA president Padraig Walshe said the budget cut in less favoured area payments last October to 40% of farmers was a major blow to the incomes of mainly livestock farmers, where these payments represent a significant proportion of their family farm income.
To qualify for the allowance, farmers must agree to farm for at least five years from the first payment and to farm a minimum area fixed by the member state.
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