The call comes from IFA Hill Committee Chairman Pat Dunne, as the Department of Agriculture prepares to set minimum and maximum stocking densities for commonages, and proposes the €120 per hectare GLAS agri-environment scheme, which will be open to commonage farmers only if 50% of active participants comply with the scheme, or those farming 50% of the commonage area.
Pillar II Rural Development measures are critically important to hill farmers. Securing €580m per annum was the result of a major IFA campaign over the last four years.
October’s Budget is critical, as funding has to be secured for the opening of the GLAS scheme in 2015. IFA has challenged the minister to open the scheme in the autumn of this year, with contracts beginning in early 2015 and significant payments at the end of next year. Farmers in hill areas must secure GLAS payments, as the restrictions that apply to them have a severe impact on their income.
The priority for the minister has to be allowing 30,000 farmers into GLAS in 2015, with a high proportion of entrants from commonage and hill areas. With new rules being introduced on stocking levels, commonage farmers must be in a position to maximise their GLAS payments. In addition, the Areas of Natural Constraints scheme (formerly Disadvantaged Areas) complements the basic payment system, greening and GLAS.
In relation to the 50% management agreement (in order to gain access to GLAS), this will apply only to the active farmers. If more than 50% of the land comes in, they will also qualify as, in some instances, some farmers may own more than one share. Importantly, where this 50% is proving difficult to reach, IFA will hold Minister Simon Coveney to his commitment that active farmers cannot be excluded. Specifically, the new Implementation Committee has, as its terms of reference, to assist in these situations. In the Rural Development Programme, where the management agreement is secured, commonage farmers also have the option of qualifying for GLAS+, which will increase their payments by a further €2,000, to an overall maximum of €7,000. IFA pressed very hard to increase the commonage payment of €75 per hectare (under AEOS).
The payment has now been increased to €120. However, we are disappointed that the private Natura payment is set at only €79. This needs to increase in line with other designations, such as hen harrier, chough and corncrake.
Farmers with commonage and marginal land have to have a minimum stocking rate to comply with EU rules. This is a concern, after major difficulties with the eligilible land issue. Minister Coveney must ensure farmers are given every opportunity to meet whatever minimum activity is required. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is not acceptable, and the Implementation Committee, chaired by Joe Healy, must deal with this in a flexible manner.
This body is being set up. IFA will be holding detailed discussions with the committee to ensure that, as part of its objectives, it deals with all situations in hills and commonages.
IFA had pushed the minister to set up this committee some time ago. It is unfortunate that it has yet to start its work. We need to see it up and running, without delay.
Minimum and maximum figures published in 2012 were considered by commonage farmers to be inaccurate, not reflecting the position on the ground.
It was a desktop exercise, and would be a totally unsatisfactory basis to establish sustainable stocking levels.
A commonage-by-commonage assessement would be a far better way to do this.
Given the differences between commonages, and the fact that farmers will be meeting a minimum standard as part of the basis-payment scheme, the 0.15-livestock-unit-per-hectare qualification does not apply. Since the 0.15-lu-per-hectare seven-month rule came in two years ago, commonage farmers were deemed eligible, even if they were below that stocking level, as they were complying with the Commonage Framework Plan.