Compliance with environmental regulations could leave some farmers in severe financial difficulty if they are deemed ineligible for the Single Farm Payment scheme, the ICSA and Fianna Fáil have warned.
ICSA suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher says that participation in REPS has left many farmers at a disadvantage since the closure of the scheme. Apart from the financial loss, former participants in REPS have been hit by rules on land eligibility under the Single Farm Payment scheme.
“Farmers who were in REPS applied good environmental practices on their farms and maintained biodiversity, as required by the scheme,” said Mr Kelleher. “For instance, they maintained habitats which are now ineligible or partially ineligible for the Single Farm Payment. These farmers are now facing fines for protecting and preserving what they would once have been entitled to a payment for. If the REPS scheme had never been introduced, farmers might have reclaimed this land, but as it stands, if they were REPS-compliant, now their land is ineligible for the Single Farm Payment.”
REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme) was introduced in 1994 and closed to new applicants in 2009, with final payments under the scheme due in 2014.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, says some commonage farmers may not be eligible for the Single Farm Payment (SFP) from 2015 due to the new environmental rules.
From 2015 on, commonage farmers who do not put stock on the commonage will not be eligible for the SFP. This is because of the new rules defining an active farmer, which says that unlike farmers farming enclosed land, those farming semi-natural land will have to have a minimum stocking on that land.
Deputy Ó Cuív said: “Following the considerable problems in relation to the GLAS scheme, which may preclude many commonage owners from participating in it, there is a further major challenge facing commonage farmers from 2015 on.
“This is a ridiculous rule because the net effect is that rather than an arrangement being arrived at between farmers on a hill whereby only some of the applicants for area-based payments use the hill, all applicants for area-based payments will now be required to put stock on the hill.
“It will reduce the economic benefit for those who traditionally used the hill up to now and force people, who for reasons of health or age might not feel that they could engage in farming, to put stock up on the hill. This will not in any way improve either the agricultural or environmental condition of the hill but will act as another bureaucratic barrier for farmers.”
The Fianna Fáil spokesman called on the Department of Agriculture to revise this interpretation of the SFP regulations to ensure that as long as a hill is stocked correctly and is kept in good agricultural environmental condition that the requirement for all farmers to put stock on the hill would be removed.
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