Facing an uphill battle to keep future viable

Q&A: Pat Dunne
Facing an uphill battle to keep future viable

The Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, farmer will be kept busy representing members in negotiations on the new rural development scheme, the reformed CAP which will kick in next January, Government plans for commonages — and the ongoing difficulties in making a living on upland farms.

¦ What are IFA’s priorities for hill farmers in the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme?

>> The importance of the Rural Development Programme to hill farmers is significant, when you take into account that many farmers will be interested in the new GLAS scheme, and also that all the areas will continue to qualify for payments under the new Areas of Natural Constraint (ANCs), which will replace the disadvantaged areas scheme. The cutbacks in recent budgets, particularly to the REPS scheme and the disadvantaged areas payments, have had a very negative effect on the incomes of hill farmers. It is now up to Minister Coveney to put in place a meaningful GLAS scheme, and that the payments under the ANCs are protected and enhanced. Most hill areas are Natura land, and must be allowed to qualify for the GLAS Plus, to give a maximum payment of €7,000. This will go some of the way to replacing the loss of the REPS 4, which will finish for all farmers at the end of this year. Many hill farmers are currently in the AEOS scheme, but this scheme fell short of the payments that arose in the REPS scheme, therefore the GLAS scheme must pay high levels of payment.

Hill farmers will also be interested in a sheep fencing scheme under TAMS 2, but it is important that planning issues are sorted out, and that farmers are given the go-ahead for such fencing without having to seek full planning approval.

¦ What are the main issues for hill farmers in the CAP Pillar I?

>> It is important that many of the issues have now been clarified by the Department of Agriculture, and the recent round of CAP information meetings have been very helpful in this regard.

A major concern to hill farmers is the sheep grassland scheme, which has been absorbed into the single payments of sheep farmers. This move by Minister Coveney takes away any gains farmers with low payments would have through convergence, and those farmers with above average payments will find their payments increasing, leading to deeper convergence cuts. IFA has called for a sheep grassland budget of €18m to be ring-fenced for sheep farmers, and that a special measure is put in place.

¦ What is the future for hill sheep production?

>> The margins for hill sheep are very low, and it is important that marketing strategies are put in place by Bord Bia to ensure that the light lamb product is promoted in markets which have recently suffered from the recession, such as Spain and Portugal. Also, partnerships must be developed with lowland farmers who can take mountain lamb at a particular stage and fatten them for the market in the early part of the year. However, direct payments are a crucial element of farm income support in hill areas.

¦ How is the Government plan going, to reduce stocking rates on over-grazed commonages and increase stocking on under-grazed commonages?

>> Last year, the Government produced minimum and maximum figures for over 90% of the commonages in Ireland. It was clear that these figures bore no relationship to the actual situation on the ground, where some farmers would have had to reduce their numbers significantly, and others would have to increase in order to come within the range outlined. IFA urged the minister to withdraw the proposal, but to put in place a more flexible approach, with more dialogue taking place with farmers on the ground. It is now important that this process is put in place, and that the independent chairman that was promised by the minister to oversee this would be put in place. There are over 450,000ha of commonage, with around 15,000 landowners affected. These farmers cannot remain in limbo with regard to stocking level, as it will be a key requirement of eligibility for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), greening payment, and also to qualify for ANC and GLAS. Urgency is required on this critical issue, as hill farmers need to plan their future.

¦ What recreational potential exists for hill areas?

>> The Walks Scheme has been a tremendous success in the development of recreational infrastructure in hill areas. Most of the 40 walks covered by the scheme are in hill areas, and it is important that this is developed further, as the demand for such activities grows. IFA is actively involved in Comhairle na Tuaithe, and most of the conflict issues have been resolved. The Walks Scheme has played a major role where farmers get a benefit out of the development of walks on their farm.

¦ What are the major barriers to development in hill areas?

>> Most hill areas are designated as Natura or Natural Heritage Areas. Restrictions on development, whether it is forestry, wind farming or indeed farming activity, has been a major constraint in recent times. This is why farmers need strong support in these areas for the public good that they have to protect, and why CAP Pillar I and Pillar II payments are vital.

More in this section

Farming
Newsletter

Keep up-to-date with all the latest developments in Farming with our weekly newsletter

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up