Farmers with shares in three commonages are paying up to €2,300 in professional fees to join GLAS, says Galway West Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív.
The GLAS scheme requires development and implementation of a Commonage Management Plan (CMP) which must be prepared and completed by a professional, approved, trained and qualified Agricultural Advisor.
Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, said the advisor is paid by the farmer, and is not working for his Department. The price paid is a matter for the farmer and the advisor, he said.
“My Department did not set any rules or guidelines for professional fees involved in joining GLAS,” he said.
“Under GLAS, payment to farmers in respect of commonages was increased from €79/hectare in the previous agri-environment measure to €120/ha a year for five years to take account of potential additional costs to the farmer.”
The average annual payment to farmers across the first two phases of GLAS is €4,600, but participants can earn up to €7,000. Almost 15,000 farmers nationally have shares of commonage; 6,578 have been approved into the first two phases of GLAS — a voluntary agri-environment scheme.
Farmers with commonage have priority access to GLAS, and commonage advisors have been assigned to prepare CMPs for over 2,700 commonages. However, it has proved difficult for some to secure the services of commonage advisors. For 255 commonages, shared by 571 GLAS participants, planners were assigned and subsequently reassigned.
Minister Creed said that nearly 80 commonages are being reassessed in GLAS, where the commonage advisor initially assigned is no longer in a position to complete the work, and 35 commonages have had no advisor assigned.
Some 6,600 farmers have declared 13,000 commonage shares as part of their GLAS applications, of which about 300 have declared shares on the 115 commonages for which the assignment of a commonage advisor is yet to be finalised.
Mr Creed said his Department is finalising arrangements to assign an advisor to these commonages, and to put in place a procedure to ensure that GLAS participants on these commonages will have their 2016 GLAS payment processed at the same time as all other GLAS 1 and 2 participants.
In the Dáil, Sligo-Leitrim Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny has alleged that farmers within GLAS are expected to inform on their non-GLAS commonage neighbours with regard to stocking density, or be penalised.
In reply, Minister Creed said the goal of the CMP is to ensure farming activity on commonages is carried out sustainably, to prevent under and over grazing, and if necessary, set out collective actions such as controlled burning. He said stocking level ranges are set for each commonage and each shareholder, whether the shareholder is a GLAS applicant or not.
This info should be sufficient in most cases for the advisor preparing the CMP, unless it is evident from the vegetation that the stocking level figure needs adjustment.
“It is in the interests of all farmers using the commonage that the total grazing compliment be established,” said the Minister, noting that if the commonage is not maintained in an eligible condition, EU payments could be affected, to the detriment of all shareholders.
The date for completion of commonage CMPs is now put out to September 1, 2017, to facilitate inclusion of farmers in GLAS 3, applications for which are now being accepted.
Meanwhile, to speed up processing of 2016 GLAS payments for GLAS 1 and GLAS 2 participants, interim CMP arrangements are in place which confirm that CMPs are under way, and that commonage farmers have committed to meeting their minimum stocking density by the end of 2016.
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