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Agriculture Scheme Eligibility (Continued)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 844 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] As the Minister of State knows, there was a protest outside his Department today by farmers from many counties, especially those along the west coast and the south west, about GLAS and, in particular, the restrictions the Minister of State and the Minister are placing on that scheme by requiring a minimum of 50% of all farmers involved in a commonage to participate in the scheme in order for any one farmer to be involved in it. I know from the response to a parliamentary question I tabled that it has been reduced from a previous threshold of 80% of all farmers participating. However, I would like to highlight some very pertinent figures in respect of the nonsensical behaviour of the Department and the Minister of State and the Minister in trying to put in this threshold and the impact it will have which is that the vast majority of farmers with commonage will be excluded from participating in GLAS.

Nationally, there are 14,929 farms with commonage, which is approximately 11% of all farms. Of that 14,929, 3,500 farmers participated in REPS, which was a 24% take-up by farmers with commonage. Farmers could join REPS individually and it was not dependent on other farmers joining. It also had a maximum payment rate of €12,000. This new GLAS scheme has a maximum payment rate of €5,000. Unlike the previous schemes, farmers cannot join it on their own but can only join if 50% of all other farmers who have use of a commonage join. The experience is that only 24% availed of previous schemes. Unless the Minister of State and Minister reverse this decision, they will block farmers who have commonage from participating in GLAS.

Many of these farm households have lower incomes compared to average incomes. For example, the average beef farm income last year was €15,000 while the average sheep farm income was €11,000, which was significantly down. Although this new GLAS scheme has a lower income threshold of €5,000, it would represent a big proportion of the income for the average beef or sheep farmer and yet the Minister of State and the Minister, through these proposals, are excluding many of the most vulnerable family farms from participating in this scheme.

Will the Minister of State address those points in his reply? Will he clarify when farmers will be able to get their first payment under GLAS? Is it correct that it will not be until the end of the first year in which case farmers will not be able to get a payment under GLAS until 2016 at the earliest? It is unacceptable, in particular for low income family farmers, to be deprived of an essential payment and part of their income for such a long period of time.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I thank Deputy McConalogue for raising this very important issue for many farmers. It gives me the opportunity to clarify many of the issues around the new scheme, GLAS. GLAS is designed around core requirements which all applicants must satisfy. These are that an approved agricultural planner must prepare the GLAS application; a nutrient management plan for the whole farm must be in place before payment issues; the applicant must participate in training courses for specific actions; and proper record keeping will be essential. These are all very basic and essential items.

A tiered approach is being applied to entry into the scheme and these tiers are based on a consideration of priority environmental assets and actions. The tiered approach will give priority access to farmers with important environmental assets, such as Natura sites, farmland habitats, high status water areas or commonage land.

The tiers will operate as follows and it is important for me to outline them. Tier 1 will be farms with priority environmental assets, such as important habitats - privately owned Natura areas, SPA and SACs - important bird species, high status water courses, commonage land or rare breeds; a whole farm stocking rate exceeding 140 kg organic manure per hectare which must be produced on the holding provided they agree to certain related mandatory actions; more than 30 ha of arable crops, again provided they agree to certain related mandatory actions; or what I presume everybody welcomes, registered organic farm status. In the case of commonage owners, priority access under tier 1 is guaranteed if they can achieve an 80% participation level in a collective.

Tier 2 is farms with other key environmental assets; commonage owners who secure a minimum of 50% collective participation; a whole farm stocking rate less than 140 kg livestock manure per hectare; or less than 30 ha of arable crops undertaking key environmental actions.

Tier 3, farms which do not fulfil any of the criteria for tiers 1 or 2 but which commit to a series of general environmental actions, will qualify. As 25,000 to 30,000 farmers are being accommodated under the scheme, in all likelihood, the vast majority of tier 1 and tier 2 applicants will qualify.

The proposed maximum payment is €5,000 per annum with the scheme building up to the inclusion of more than 50,000 farmers with a total envisaged expenditure of €1,450 million over the programming period. It is also proposed that, within budget limits, a GLAS+ payment would be put in place for a limited number of farmers who take on particularly challenging actions which deliver an exceptional level of environmental benefit. It is proposed that this payment will be up to €2,000 per annum, in addition to the €5,000 already paid under GLAS.

I would like to set out some of the background to our proposals on commonages, which Deputy McConalogue-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Could the Minister of State keep the rest of his speech for the last two minutes?

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes The rest of it deals with the commonages which the issue is about.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan The Minister of State has used his four minutes. Deputy McConalogue has two minutes and the Minister of State can respond in the two minutes he has left.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes It is important for the Deputy to know what is in the commonage-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I have to abide by the rules.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue It is unfortunate that the Minister of State has not really dealt with the particular questions I asked.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes If the Deputy gives way, I can.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Yes.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I thank the Deputy because it is important. I will set out the background to our proposals on commonage. The proposed GLAS scheme must respect the provisions set out in Council Regulation 1305 of 2013 and address key priorities identified at European Union level. Payments under the scheme can only be made in respect of actions going beyond the baseline requirements under the basic payment scheme under pillar 1 of the CAP. In simple terms, this means that a farmer cannot be paid twice for the same commitment under both schemes which is only fair.

Since the introduction of agri-environment schemes in the 1990s the pillar 1 baseline has been progressively raised for each programming period and this challenges us all in putting together schemes that will gain approval at European Commission level. Farmers are required under the basic payment scheme to maintain land in good agricultural and environmental condition and commonage land is no exception to this requirement. We must also remember that the European Commission contributes significantly to the GLAS scheme.

A key element of the new strategy for managing commonages under GLAS is the development of a collective approach, where the majority of shareholders come together to manage the land in the best interests of the broader environment.


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