Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 21 - 24
 Header Item Agriculture Scheme Eligibility
 Header Item Beef Industry
 Header Item Agriculture Scheme Administration
 Header Item Agriculture Scheme Administration

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 4

First Page Previous Page Page of 110 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 21 - 24

Agriculture Scheme Eligibility

 21. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if farmers with rights to commonage land will have to agree a grazing plan with at least 50% of farmers using the same commonage in order to qualify for single farm payments and disadvantaged areas payments under the new Common Agricultural Policy proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43003/14]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney A total of some 15,000 farmers, situated mainly along the west coast, declare commonage land amounting to 7% of all lands declared under the Single Payment Scheme and the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. Under the reformed CAP Regime, the eligibility requirements for Direct Payments is now more focused on active farmers. In that regard, it will be necessary for all farmers who apply for aid under the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015 to have an agricultural activity on each land parcel that they declare for payment purposes. In the case of marginal land including commonages, this can only be achieved by grazing the land. Member States are obliged to set their own requirements for the maintenance of such lands.

  Currently discussions are taking places with the European Commission regarding the setting of a relatively modest farming activity requirement under the Pillar I Schemes and the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme for maintaining marginal land. The grazing requirement, which must be met by all applicants under the Basic Payment Scheme, will be fixed at one ewe per one and a half hectares. A lower level will be set for commonages where it is necessary from an environmental viewpoint (for example, on blanket bogs). In order to provide flexibility for farmers who benefit from payments for commonage lands they claim aid on but do not graze, applicants have until December 2015 to obtain the animals to meet the grazing requirement.

  The minimum grazing requirement which must be met in order to qualify for the Basic Payment Scheme and the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme under the new CAP does not require a grazing plan with at least 50% of farmers using the same commonage.

  With a view to having a system to meet the requirements of the Basic Payment Scheme, which will be implemented in 2015, the claimants will have the right, if they consider that the figures provided would not meet the requirements of their commonage, to submit an assessment by a professional planner providing alternative figures.

Beef Industry

 22. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if he will consider introducing more flexibility and common sense to the specific risk material regulation that impacts on the price of cattle over 30 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43018/14]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Rules in relation to the removal and destruction of Specified Risk Materials are determined at EU level. Specified Risk Material (SRM) refers to a group of tissues and organs of animals which have been shown to have potential to transmit diseases such as BSE. Under existing EU regulations SRM must be removed from the food and feed chain and disposed of in accordance with prescribed legislative requirements, in order to ensure optimal consumer protection. This has been a mandatory requirement since 2000 and is EU wide.

EU SRM rules have been subject to adjustment over the years in line with ongoing assessment of the risks relating to BSE. For example, prior to 1 January 2006, the vertebral column of bovine animals over 12 months had been regarded as Specified Risk Material (SRM) and was not permitted in products for human consumption. In January 2006 that age threshold was raised to 24 months and since April 2008 vertebral column of cattle up to 30 months of age is permitted for sale in products for human consumption. Retail butchers who receive beef containing vertebral column from animals over 30 months must be authorised to receive, handle and dispose of the SRM. Authorisation is granted by the Environmental Health Service of the HSE.

There is an EU wide harmonised approach to the regulation of SRM with limited scope for flexibility by any Member State with respect to implementing the TSE regulations including the definition of SRM. Any future changes to the situation will require agreement at EU level, based on European Food Safety Authority opinions. Of course it is also the case that full compliance with EU SRM rules is invariably a condition for access to 3rd country markets for Irish beef and from the point of view of protecting the reputation of the Irish beef industry in overseas markets, it is essential that my Department rigorously enforces the current rules.

While I can have no role in discussing prices I am cognisant of the high level of consumer protection built up over the years in the field of prevention, control and eradication of TSEs. My priority is ensuring that this high level of consumer protection is maintained, while protecting the reputation of the Irish beef sector in overseas markets.

Agriculture Scheme Administration

 23. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the progress made to date in resolving issues in relation to commonages potentially affecting both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 payments under the Common Agricultural Policy 2014-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42801/14]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney As the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy has progressed, my Department has been addressing a number of issues relating to commonage land in the context of both the new Rural Development Plan and GLAS and the new Basic Payment Scheme.

  The experience to date since the Single Payment Scheme was introduced in 2005 is that there is a growing problem of commonage land being under-grazed and in some cases being abandoned by farmers.   

  This trend is not good for the environment, as these areas lose the specific characteristics as natural habitats for flora and fauna. In addition, the creeping ineligibility of these lands under the Single Payment Scheme and other Direct Payment Schemes poses a significant risk to the State in view of the risk of financial corrections being imposed by the European Commission.

  Under the reformed CAP Regime, it was decided that Direct Payments should be more focused on active farmers. In that regard, it will be necessary for all farmers who apply for aid under the Basic Payment Scheme to have an agricultural activity on each land parcel that they claim aid on.  In the case of marginal land including commonages, this agricultural activity can only be achieved by grazing the land. The minimum activity envisaged under the Basis Payment Scheme is a modest one which is equivalent to a minimum of one ewe per one and a half hectares grazing requirement.

  However it is also apparent that many applicants under the Single Payment Scheme have not been actively farming, for a variety of reasons including age and ill health, the commonage land claimed.

  Currently discussions are taking places with the Commission regarding the setting of a relatively modest requirement under the Pillar I Schemes and the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme for maintaining marginal land including commonages while maximising the numbers of farmers qualifying for payment under both schemes.

  In relation to Pillar 2,and specifically GLAS, the first thing to be said is that payments under GLAS can only be made in respect of actions which go beyond the baseline requirements for Pillar 1.  Farmers are already required under the Basic Payment Scheme to maintain land in eligible condition and commonage land is no exception to this requirement.  So, in order to secure funding for hill-farmers under GLAS, the challenge is to design a scheme which manifestly goes beyond baseline.  We also have to ensure that the commitments outlined are measureable and controllable, as this is critical to securing approval. 

  The key characteristic of commonage land is that it is farmed in common and the actions undertaken under GLAS will have to reflect that.  We cannot have multiple and varying plans submitted for the commonage – we need a single plan, drawn up by a single advisor, that sets out clearly what the objectives are over a five-year period and what those participating in this plan will do, individually and together, to achieve those objectives.

  My Department recognises that hill farmers have genuine concerns about these new proposals and we have attempted to address these concerns in the various public meetings that were held around the country in September and October.  We have looked at each of the issues raised and responded by either adjusting the proposed conditions of the scheme or by explaining in more detail how these will work.  We have reduced the participation level required from 80% to 50% and have further clarified that the participation rate will be calculated purely on the basis of active shareholders, which reduces the effective percentage rate still further.  We have established the Commonage Implementation Committee to help resolve cases where it proves impossible to achieve even the reduced participation rate.  We have provided lead-in time for those who require sheep to get them; we have provided for the final grazing targets to be achieved over time; and we have provided flexibility for those final grazing targets to be met by the group as a whole.  In response to concerns about the minimum and maximum grazing regimes set already, we have agreed that if the farmers on a particular commonage disagree with these, and can back up a proposal for a different regime, we will consider such proposals positively.

  We have given a significant amount of freedom to the shareholders to come up with their own plan tailored to their commonage, rather than trying to impose a ‘one size fits all’ solution from above.  I believe that when farmers sit back and examine what we have actually put on the table, they will see that our proposals represent a real opportunity to improve the management of commonages and to support those who want to play an active role in restoring a traditional farming regime to the hills.

Agriculture Scheme Administration

 24. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if he will spread the payments to farmers under the various schemes over 12 monthly payments in order to provide some income certainty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43010/14]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The rules governing the making of Direct Payments and other schemes including area based schemes are set out in EU regulations. Article 75.1 of Council Regulation 1306/2013 specifies that payments under the Single Payment Scheme and the Basic Payment Scheme shall be made within the period from 1 December to 30 June of the following calendar year. Payments shall be made in a maximum of two instalments within that period. The regulation further allows Member States, prior to 1 December but not before 16 October, to pay advances of up to 50 % for these direct payments.

Under Article 75.1 the same provisions apply to agri-environment schemes as and from scheme year 2018, with the exception that pay advances of up to 75% may be made. This schedule is the same as the current procedure whereby payments are made in two instalments, 75% and 25%, but not before 16 October.

It should also be noted that payments under the Area of Natural Constraints Scheme will move to this payment schedule as and from scheme year 2018. In the interim period, payments under the Area of Natural Constraints Scheme will continue to be paid in full from September of the scheme year, which is the earliest possible date for payments under this scheme.

It is therefore not possible for my Department to spread payments under these schemes into instalments over a twelve month period.


Last Updated: 22/09/2016 12:33:15 First Page Previous Page Page of 110 Next Page Last Page