Low level supports for small farmers

Inadequate, late and anti-small farmer organic payments; the function and legitimacy of certification bodies and stocking rate rules which mitigate against hill farmers.

These were three of the main issues members of the Organic Farmers Representative Body (OFRB) brought to the attention of TDs and senators at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine debate in early October.

Padraic Finnegan, chair of the OFRB, pointed out that “the introduction of double funding has impacted very severely on farmers with a few hectares as they can no longer benefit from both the GLAS and organic schemes. A severe financial cut has been imposed on the smaller producer. We seek to have the schemes front-loaded to lessen the impact on those with small farms.”

“To maximise payments, a farmer with 20 ha might decide that he will put 10 ha into the GLAS scheme. He is then left with 10 ha in the organic scheme because he cannot claim on both schemes. He still has to pay the certification bodies for the entire 20 ha, which, again, makes it far less viable for him.”

The core problem here is that there is a maximum payment of €5,000 for GLAS. A small farmer simply may not have enough land to have both a GLAS area and an organic area on his farm – double funding rules prevent two payments on the same area. However a farmer with more acreage can have two areas in the two schemes, and easily reach the maximum payment of €5,000 under GLAS.

Priority access into GLAS for organic farmers as it’s called could be seen as a double-edged sword:

“The Department is now telling us that if an organic farmer pulls out of organic farming, he will be kicked out of the GLAS scheme as well. The Department knows what it has done. This is an attempt to trap the farmers.”

Higher payments for first hectares would not, the OFRB claim, disadvantage the larger farmer, who could get the same overall amount anyway, if weighted to achieved this. However higher first hectare payments would benefit the smaller farmer.

Their suggestion was €340 for the first 20 hectares; €225 for the next 20 and then €115.

Late payments are another concern. Last year, there was a late payment, which was put down to an industrial dispute.

However “we always have a problem in getting paid — payments under all other schemes are made on time”

And the OFRB fear it will happen again: “The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, gave us a commitment that this would never happen again as the organic farming scheme would be included in the electronic system, like all other schemes, but that has not happened.

“We were in contact with Johnstown Castle earlier this week and informed that the electronic payments system would apply only to new entrants and those included in the scheme previously would remain on the old system.

“I asked what progress had been made with the applications not included in the electronic system. The man said no files had yet arrived in Johnstown Castle from any area office in the country.

“This can have only one outcome — our payments will be late again this year.”

A factor pointed to by another OFRB member Enda Monaghan was the stocking rate for hill farmers.

“At the moment we have to carry half a unit per hectare and on the mountain areas they are not carrying that. They might have three or four hectares for a half unit. Our payment is based on a stocking rate,” said Enda.

He suggested frontloading or altering the payment rates for mountainous areas.


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