Completion of the Irish Soil Information System (ISIS) by Teagasc, later this year, will trigger an exhaustive process to reclassify disadvantaged areas.
ISIS will complete the national soil survey, and will be part of a complicated calculation of what areas will qualify for the €195m-per-year funding agreed for disadvantaged areas from 2015 to 2020.
Under the CAP Reform agreement, member states have until 2018 to calculate the new areas, which will be known as Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC), or Areas of Natural Handicap (ANH).
The areas will be redesignated using new, bio-physical criteria.
As proposed by the European Commission, they are:
¦ Climate, including low temperature and heat stress.
¦ Soil, including drainage, texture and stoniness, rooting depth and chemical properties.
¦ Soil and climate, including soil moisture balance (which measures the dryness or wet-ness of the ground).
¦ Terrain, including slope.
An area of natural handicap will have to meet the proposed threshold for one of these criteria only. The European Commission suggests areas in Ireland be delineated by district electoral division (DED).
To qualify as disadvantaged under the new system, at least two-thirds of the utilised agricultural land in a DED must meets at least one of these criteria.
The resultant Areas of Natural Handicap would be subject to further fine-tuning to remove areas which, although they meet the biophysical criteria, have overcome the natural disad-vantage and, therefore, should not benefit under the disadvantaged scheme.
The final outcome will affect 95,000 farmers who currently receive annual disadvantaged area payments for 75% of Irish farmland.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said that the new, science- based assessment is likely to end disadvantaged payments on better quality land, and to bring more of the genuinely difficult farming areas within the payments scheme.
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