Plans Unveiled for Hill Farms

At last week’s IFA Hill Sheep Forum in Galway, the debate around the minimum/maximum stocking rates was centre stage. Liam Fahy, Department of Agriculture, told farmers that where they are currently taking part in an agri-environment scheme, such as AEOS, their stocking rate is governed by what was put in the plan.

For farmers who find themselves outside an agri-environment scheme, they must adhere to the new minimum/maximum stocking rates or the stocking rates in the CFP (commonage framework plan). In relation to controlled burning, Fahy told farmers that burning dates will have to be revisited.

Fahy added that the recent review of commonage framework plans was undertaken due to the increasing threat of land abandonment.

He said that the last review of commonages was undertaken in 2002 and, since then, many commonages are heading towards being undergrazed. He said that in the light of Single Farm Payments terms and conditions, areas that are under-grazed will not be eligible for payment. He told the crowd that all land must be maintained in GAEC (good agricultural and environmental condition). He highlighted that a number of issues need to be addressed:

Stocking Rate: He said that a new minimum/maximum stocking rate review of commonages was undertaken. Several farmers raised concerns of the accuracy of these minimum/maximum numbers saying that in some cases they are much too low and, in other cases, too high. Fahy said that these new stocking rates are ‘not bedded in stone’, and told farmers that they will have the opportunity to ‘review and reassess’ the figures. Voices from the floor suggested that these reviews should be straightforward and not through an appeals process. He added that the minimum/maximum is based on the SPS and, if there is a surplus or deficit, it would be up to all shareholders to come together and see who wants to take up the slack.

Burning: In relation to the designated period for burning, Fahy said that this should be extended but only controlled burning allowed.

Collective Arrangements: He said that there are three categories of farmers who farm commonages. The first are active sheep farmers, the second apply on SPS for these areas but have no sheep and the third do not apply and may or may not have sheep.

Biggest Issue

John Bryan told the crowd that the single biggest issue facing them is the co-financing of Pillar II funds from the government. He said: ”We fought long and hard to maintain Pillar I and II.”

Bryan explained that the IFA is giving a clear signal that they are not in favour of regionalisation or a co-efficient. He encouraged the crowd that where they need to apply pressure today is to get proper Pillar II funding.

He said that the Disadvantaged Areas payment needs to be brought back to 45ha and that coupling needs to be introduced at a rate of €100 on the suckler cow and €15, or more, per hill ewe.

(Source – Irish Farmers Journal – Nathan Tuffy – 05/10/2013)

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