One-third of farmers who get ANC (disadvantaged) payments believe they are unfairly distributed.
And one fifth of them say the payment should be reduced for their disadvantaged lands which have been improved or reclaimed.
In the annual Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll, half of the 569 farmers interviewed were getting payments in the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) scheme.
The scheme pays more than €200m to 95,000 farmers, to compensate them for the lower productivity and higher production costs on lands.
The poll, conducted at agricultural shows in August, revealed that even 34% of those who get the payments (and 20% who don’t, 26% overall) believe they are unfairly distributed.
This is likely to be the last year of the payments in their present form, because they must be re-designated in 2018, by order of the EU (although the payments are only 53% funded by EU, with 47% coming from the Irish Government).
The poll findings offer vital clues to how receptive Irish farmers will be to the re-designation across the EU, which will be based on temperature, dryness, excess soil moisture, limited soil drainage, unfavourable soil texture and stoniness, shallow rooting depth, poor soil chemical properties, and steepness of slopes. Conserving the environment, countryside, and tourist potential, or protecting coastlines, may also be taken into account.
Controversially, nearly one quarter, 23%, in the poll said payment should be reduced for disadvantaged lands which have been improved or reclaimed. That includes 19% who get the payments, and 31% of those aged under 34.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has backed retention of disadvantaged area payments for land which has been improved.
Earlier this year, he said, “I personally do not think that such endeavour should work against them now.
“If one talks about the biophysical criteria, though they may have drained the land, they did not change the soil structure, a fact I hope will be reflected in the outcome.”
Even as the 2017 ANC cheques are being dispatched this week to farmers, helping them to overcome the very difficult recent weather conditions in some parts of the country, only 48% of all those surveyed agreed that payments are fairly distributed, compared to 26% disagreeing.
Some farmers will gain, and some will lose in the re-designation, scheduled for 2018 unless a proposal at EU level to extend the deadline on an optional basis is accepted.
The Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll result also indicates that 48% of farmers disagree with reducing payments for disadvantaged lands which have been improved or reclaimed, but 23% agree.
Mr Creed has said: “We should celebrate the fact that 95,000 farmers receive the payment.
He has told farmers said there will be consultation with key stakeholders, on the way to agreement with the EU Commission on categories of payments (which must be based on constraints identified by the redesignation, and on income foregone and costs incurred by farmers on such lands).
Currently, farmers on mountain-type land receive €109.71 on their first 10 forage hectares, and €95.99 on remaining hectares up to 34 ha. Those on more severely handicapped lowland get €95.99 per forage ha, up to 30 ha. Those on less severely handicapped lowland get €82.27, up to 30 ha.
A new category since 2015 allows off-shore island farmers qualify for €250 per ha on the first 20 ha, €170 on 20-34 ha, inclusive, and €70 per ha on 34-40 ha, inclusive.
Mr Creed said: “Island farmers are the most disadvantaged, and it is right that this fact is recognised by a higher payment”.
However, it is a politically sensitive area, with Sinn Féin seeking to have mountain grazing payments at similar rates to offshore island rates.
Sinn Féin also calls for a new map of ANC areas to be published in time for proper consultation before it is sent to the EU.
Mr Creed opposes equalising the disadvantages for island farmers with categories such as mountain land. “It would not recognise the specific disadvantage encountered by island communities. If one takes €150m for two categories, then one severely limits the amount of payments one can pay to the rest.”
Nationally the leading counties for farmers getting ANC payments are Galway (11,535), Mayo (11,078), Donegal (8,400), Kerry (7,446), and Cork (6,908).
In the 2017 Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll, the proportion of farmers getting ANC payments varied from 31-32% at the Iverk show in Co Kilkenny and the Tullow show in Co Carlow, to 75% at the Virginia show in Co Cavan.