Tuesday 23 December 2014

Happy Christmas

We at yourcommonnage.ie would like to wish everyone we deal with a very happy Christmas. The last year has been challenging on the commonage front but I we look forward to 2015 being a better year for everyone involved with farming and protecting Irish commonages and the agricultural, social and natural heritage linked to that,

Happy Christmas

Thursday 18 December 2014

Minister Coveney confirms his Dept is considering the Hill Farmers 12 Point Plan.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in response to a Parlimentary question from Colm Keaveney T.D. has confirmed that his Department are considering the hill Farmers 12 Point Plan. The full exchange is shown below. 

Deputy Colm Keaveney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on adopting the 12 point proposals (details supplied) for priority entry into the GLAS scheme in respect of commonage farmers that was provided to him by the hill farmers recently; the reasons for his agreement or disagreement with the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): At my recent meeting with hill-farmer representatives I agreed to examine very carefully their proposal, on which much of our discussion at the meeting centred. My Department is giving the proposals detailed consideration and I will be contacting the hill-farmer representatives in due course.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

GLAS Specifications.

The draft Specifications for GLAS can be seen by following the link below. These are an early draft and I expect there will be significant changes before the scheme is approved.

/GLAS Draft Specifications 

National Reserve Conditions


The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, today announced the conditions of the 2015 National Reserve. The transition to the new regime of Direct Payments will include the establishment of a National Reserve using 3% of the ceiling allocated to the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015. This will provide a fund of almost €25million from which new entitlements will be allocated to successful applicants.

The Minister said; “I am keenly aware of the limited resources available in the National Reserve over the five years of the Scheme. My aim is to ensure that these resources are targeted specifically at those who have a proven interest in pursuing a full time career in agriculture but who require assistance in establishing themselves in the Direct Payments system. At the same time I am mindful of the risk of excluding those who may engage in limited off-farm employment as a means of supplementing their agricultural income”. Priority under the National Reserve will be given to those who meet the definition of ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant to farming’. Successful applicants will receive an allocation of entitlements based on the eligible land declared on their 2015 Basic Payment Scheme application at a value equal to the national average value of entitlements in the year of application. Successful applicants who already hold entitlements which are below the national average value will receive a top-up whereby the value of those entitlements will be increased to the national average value. 

Sunday 14 December 2014

Irish RDP Application will not be approved in 2014.

Irelands RDP application will not be approved before the end of the year. A press release from the EU Commission has confirmed that the first 3 RDP applications have been approved. These were from Austria, Denmark and Poland, a further 6 (from Finland, Portugal along with 4 from Germany) will be agreed before the end of the year.  
While this is disappointing, it is not surprising, considering the scale of the task faced by the EU Commission in dealing with all 118 applications.  In addition the task of rewriting large parts of the Irish RDP to address the 266 observations made by the Commission will inevitably take some time.  

At this stage getting the plan right is certainly worth a couple of months delay. There is still time to make the adjustments necessary to deliver high quality schemes to support Irish Agriculture for the rest of the decade. It is essential that those who can secure this do not waste the opportunity, it will not come again!
The full text of the EU Commission press release can be seen below.

First three Rural Development Programmes get green light

Brussels, 12 December 2014
The European Commission has today approved the first three of 118 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) aimed at improving the competitiveness of the EU farming sector, caring for the countryside and climate, and strengthening the economic and social fabric of rural communities in the period until 2020. Operating at either national or regional level, the 118 multi-annual programmes are backed by EUR 95.6 billion of total EU funding over the period 2014-2020 through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and will draw in additional national, regional and private finance. In addition to today’s programmes – the national RDPs for DenmarkPoland and Austria – a further 6 programme[1] will be adopted before the end of the year, meaning that programmes worth more than 20 billion EURO will have been cleared.
Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan said:
  • "Our rural areas – with the farm sector and the many other types of business which are based there – give us jobs, opportunities for rest and recreation, natural beauty, and pleasant places in which to live and work. But they need help to unlock their full potential. The next generation of Rural Development programmes is about to deliver that help. Today we have approved the first 3, with a further 6 to follow next week – accounting for roughly 22% of Rural Development spending from the EU budget. We estimate that programmes covering approaching one third of the funding will be cleared by Easter.
  • One of the great strengths of our Rural Development concept is that we have 6 core priorities, but it is up to each Member State or region to design programmes which suit their situation. And we see good examples of this today where the Polish programme is aiming to create more than 22 000 jobs, provide investment support to roughly 200 000 farms and to establish some 1 800 producer groups.
  • In Denmark, we see particular emphasis given to fostering innovation, with the objective of creating almost 1000 "green jobs", moves to double the area of organic farming, and investing in environmentally-friendly farming practices.
  • In Austria, there is particular priority given to environment and climate concerns, with a target of more than 80% of agricultural land managed to protect and enhance biodiversity, and training opportunities for more than 600 000 farmers, whilst around half the rural population should benefit from improved services such as high-speed broadband.
  • As I have seen in my native Ireland, a modern and dynamic agriculture sector can provide a motor for economic growth and jobs, especially in rural areas. In their Rural Development Programmes backed by EU funds, Member States and regions have the right key to unlock that potential.”
Rural Development is the so-called 2nd Pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, providing Member States with an envelope of EU funding to manage nationally or regionally under multi-annual, co-funded programmes. In total, 118 programmes are foreseen in all 28 Member States.
number of RDPs by country
The new Rural Development Regulation for the 2014-2020 period addresses six economic, environmental and social priorities, and programmes contain clear targets setting out what is to be achieved. Moreover, in order to coordinate actions better and maximise synergies with the other European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF), a Partnership Agreement has been agreed with each Member State highlighting its broad strategy for EU-funded structural investment.
[1] The following plans are due for adoption before the end of 2014: Finland (mainland); PortugalContinente; and 4 from Germany (the National Framework, the German Rural Network and the regional programmes for Sachsen, and Sachsen-Anhalt)

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Sheep Census

The Dept. of Agriculture have announced the date for 2014 Sheep Census. Full details are given below. 

SHEEP & GOAT CENSUS 2014 Over 43,000 flock owners, registered as keepers of sheep and goats on the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine’s database, will this week receive the Sheep and Goat Census 2014. Completing and returning the census is a legal obligation. 

As well as fulfilling this requirement, the yearly sheep and goat census is the record retained by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as to the number of sheep on each holding. This information forms the basis of quantifying sheep numbers in the country on a particular date. More importantly, for flock owners, it is also central in declaring that required stocking rates have been maintained and facilitates the drawing down of payments under schemes such as the Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Area Scheme, REPS, AEOS and the Grassland Sheep Scheme. 

The information is also used during farm/flock inspections. The inspector will have details of the census returns submitted for the holding in the last four or five years and will use this information as the basis for identifying if the animal records have been adequately maintained. This year the Department has selected Sunday 14 December 2014 as the census date. 

The onus remains with the flock owner to make sure that the completed census forms reach the Department on time. It should be noted that the only acceptable proof of postage is Registered or Express post receipts and all forms must be returned to Government Buildings, Portlaoise, Co Laois. A postal certificate is no longer acceptable as proof of postage. Flock owners are also advised of the option to submit forms online.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Commonage Management, the Current Position

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. The EU have responded to Irelands RDP application with over 200 questions, the training courses for farm advisors have taken place, the hill farmers have had their meeting with the Minister and hill farmers have demonstrated their concerns with a mass meeting in Maam Cross and the March for Fairness in Castlebar.

We know that behind the scenes meetings between the Dept. of Agriculture and the EU Commission are ongoing. The outcome of this process of bi lateral meetings will be known within a month or so. But considerable change has already occurred, changes which are perhaps more significant than many people appreciate.

These are;

1) The scrapping of the minimum stocking rate to qualify for the Basic Payment Scheme on Commonage and marginal lands.

2) The statement issued by the IFA on the 5th of December.
"Pat Dunne said that one of the big concerns for hill farmers under the new GLAS rules was that plans might not be completed for farmers to join the scheme. IFA got a commitment from the Minister that the Commonage Implementation Committee will intervene in such cases and get Planners to do the Plan. This plan will in turn allow commonage shareholders to partake in the GLAS scheme and secure must needed support."

3) Minister Coveney's response to a parliamentary question asked by Pearse Doherty on the 4th of December where he concluded his statement with.
"I met this week with a number of farmers who expressed concerns regarding the commonage management plans.  While I have addressed certain elements of these concerns, I am reviewing their submission in the context of the threshold for environmental action which must be demonstrated in order to receive GLAS approval at EU level."*

The first point is the most significant. Up to now the Dept. of Agriculture's position was that to be eligible for payment on a commonage both the farmer and the commonage had to qualify as being eligible. In the farmers case this was by meeting a minimum stocking rates. In the case of the commonage the land had to be "farmed". Now qualification is to be based on the condition of the commonage alone. This effectively makes the Basic Payment Scheme on commonages an objectives based scheme rather than an actions based scheme. This is very significant as it means that the current situation where some farmers are "inactive" on a commonage while others manage flocks in excess of what their share might permit can continue where that is the wish of the farmers concerned. There is an informal trade off here farmer A gets his Basic Payment Scheme, Farmer B gets his payments as well but is also able to keep a viable flock. Now obviously there are difficulties where nobody farms the hill at all but I think it is unreasonable to expect direct payments to continue in these cases. Although it has to be said that even here the farmers still have a short window of opportunity to change their management and secure their payments.

If Pat Dunne is correct the second point is also very significant.  Think about it "if a group of farmers could not get an advisor to produce a commonage management plan that the CIC (Commonage Implementation Committee) would intervene and get planners to do the plan".  This can only mean that the CIC will appoint a planner to such a commonage.  Everyone accepts that it would be preferable if the farmers could get an advisor of their choice to do the plan. But equally we have to accept that this may not always be achievable and that there will be a need for directing available planning resources to where they are needed.  This role can only be filled by the Dept. of Agriculture.  If what the IFA are claiming is true then the Dept. of Agriculture are effectively agreeing to Point 6 of the Hill Farmers 12 point plan.

"The central clearing house will allocate an available advisor from a pool of trained advisors who operate in that geographical area. Where farmers have nominated an advisor, the clearing house will where possible appoint that advisor to the case. This system will prioritise planning resources to commonages with farmer support for the process. The advisor will work with the farmers in that commonage to develop a commonage management plan."

This is a big concession as it expands the Dept. of Agriculture role (through the CIC) in the commonage management planning process. In effect it has them adopting the leadership role in the process that we have always advocated. It could lead to further positive developments regarding training of advisors and planning standards.

Now I accept that the last point is a bit vague and we will have to wait and see what the Minister actually means but it is significant that he is considering their submission in the context of gaining GLAS approval at EU level.  The negotiations in Brussels will lead to more changes and I believe they will lead to a better scheme. Farmers and Planners will not get all of what they want but there is progress, slow and painful perhaps but progress nonetheless.

*The submission referred to  is  a reference to the Hill Farmers 12 Point plan based on the proposal made in the Case Studies document published by the EFNCP and written by Fergal Monaghan, James Moran and Michael Martyn.

The 266 Questions

The issue of how commonages should be dealt with under the various direct payment schemes is once again centre stage. The problem has if anything got more complex since the EU Commission responded to Irelands RDP application. The Commission has raised 266 questions with the Irish Authorities regarding the application lodged last July. Some of these are minor points that can easily be clarified and many have no impact on the commonage issue.  However there are several that strike right at the heart of the Dept. of Agricultures strategy for the next RDP and have a particular relevance for commonages.

These are;

14) The Irish authorities are asked to clarify the role of the Food Harvest 2020 strategy in relation to the strategy of this rural development programme. It seems that a number of needs are derived directly from Food Harvest 2020 instead of coming out of the ex-ante evaluation, the SWOT analysis and the needs assessment of this programme. The RDP has to be based on the established EU objectives and priorities and an analysis of the specific needs in Ireland. The Irish authorities are invited to set out how the RDP will align its strategic choices with these objectives. Food Harvest 2020 cannot be at the centre of the RDP's strategy. Especially the statement in section that the GLAS scheme has been designed to mitigate the environmental impacts of Food Harvest 2020 raises concerns and needs explanation. In addition, Food Harvest 2020 seems to have a strong focus on production and export increase. Considerations about expanding export volumes do not have a place in a rural development programme, and all rural development measures have to be in line with international obligations under the WTO Agreement.
 40) Also under opportunities the creation of new habitats and the protection of blanket bog and upland commonage are mentioned. These do not seem to have been taken up in the programme. The Irish authorities are asked to justify this, especially as the peatland situation is also recognised as a threat.

134) The Irish authorities are asked to provide much more information concerning the logic, the objectives and the content of the commitments. This is necessary in order to make an analysis of the types of operations possible, notwithstanding some relevant information provided in Annex 2. Without seeing the details of the description of types of operations it is also impossible to assess the premia amounts proposed.

141) Which rules concerning land eligibility are adopted for this measure? Agricultural land, to be defined by the Member State for this measure, does not need to be limited to UAA.

149) What is the reason for specifically targeting commonages and for the required 50% minimum participation in a commonage plan?

In short the EU is questioning the use of the RDP as an instrument to further the objectives of Food Harvest 2020 and is pointing out the incompatibility of certain proposals that are contrary to WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules.  This is relevant to commonages because it effectively rules out the proposed minimum stocking rate of 0.1 LU/ Ha on marginal lands previously needed in order to qualify for the Basic Payment Scheme. 

As regards GLAS the Commission go onto question the measures or options within GLAS (which is not surprising as many of themhave clearly not been thought out), for example why the Hen Harrier measure does nothing to recognise the value in the preservation of habitat types other than rushy grassland (a relatively low value habitat).  Even worse the measure does not even allow for the conservation of hay or silage within Hen Harrier SPA’s. In short the measure is agriculturally impractical and of little conservation value. It is no wonder that the EU is confused.
Not only are such lands of considerable conservation value but they are also represent an enormous store of Carbon.  For a scheme that sees itself as “low Carbon” ignoring the role of peatlands in locking away Carbon is puzzling. If bogs or heaths are damaged, overgrazed, drained or cut much of this Carbon can be lost to the atmosphere. If they are well managed the bogs remain as a sink for atmospheric Carbon.  In short a bog that is well managed can help address the greenhouse gas issue, a bog that is inappropriately managed contributes to the problem by releasing CO2 as the peat dries out and breaks down. While considerable funds are available to keep organic Carbon locked away in grassland soils, e.g. €314/ Ha available under the Low Input Permanent Pasture Measure, no provision is made for achieving the same goals on peatlands. This is surprising as the amount of Carbon at stake on blanket bog on a per Ha basis) far exceeds that on most permanent pastures.  Furthermore well managed peatlands can store vast quantities of water, helping to regulate water flow, reduce the risk of downstream flooding and thus helping to make the catchment as a whole more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change

They also wonder why the option of making payments under an agri environmental scheme on lands that are not considered as UAA is not being taken up. They certainly have a point here, surely farmers protecting valuable habitats like limestone pavement or long established Ash Hazel scrub should be rewarded for doing so. There seems to be a fixation with scrub in some parts of the Dept. of Agriculture. I remember a senior official recently stating that scrub is not habitat, he may have a point in respect of encroaching Gorse or Blackthorn but Juniper scrub and established Ash Hazel scrub are valuable habitats and worthy of payment under any agri-environment scheme.  
Finally the EU Commission query why there is a 50% requirement for commonages. Surely if a plan is worth having or if certain tasks are worth carrying out then they are of value irrespective of the level of support.

A series of bilateral meetings between the Dept. of Agriculture and the EU Commission to discuss the queries raised by the Commission are taking place this month. The first of these has already taken place. While I am not privy to what goes on at these meetings and I know that the Dept. of Agriculture still appear quite confident, changes to the RDP are inevitable. We know that the 0.1 LU/ Ha on marginal lands is gone; there will be more changes yet. Hopefully the proposed scheme will develop further and many of the current weaknesses will be addressed in the very near future.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Highest ever number of hits on www.yourcommonage.ie

We had 1,209 hits on our site today, this is our highest ever daily total.

Www.yourcommonage.ie has now had over 87,000 hits. Thanks to all our readers.

Friday 7 November 2014

Unique Opportunity for the Dept. of Agriculture.

The Oireachtas Agriculture Committee heard from senior Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine officials earlier this week.  It was a disappointing affair as the Dept. of Agriculture do not appear to have moved their position at all.  Whether they appreciate it or not they are now in danger of presiding over a GLAS application system that will effectively restrict access by commonage farmers and allow large number of places to be filled by farmers without priority assets.  The reasons for this have been elaborated by many commentators over the past 6 months and I do not propose to go into great detail on them here. Suffice to say that the limited time frame for the production of management plans and the reluctance of the Dept. of Agriculture to play a leadership role in the process mean that very few commonages will get across the line in 2015.  Their place will be taken by large numbers of farmers without priority access who face fewer barriers to entry.
This completely undermines the objectives of the GLAS scheme and through inhibiting rather than promoting good commonage management places Ireland at a considerable risk of a financial correction on the entire CAP.  The IFA, the Agricultural Consultants Association and the Hill Farmers for Action Group have all made proposals on how matters should proceed.  They are all on the same hymn sheet, the only one out of step is the Dept. of Agriculture.
The Dept. of Agriculture have a unique opportunity here, they have all stakeholders agreeing to the need for reform and they have broad agreement from them all as to how this should happen. With minor changes to the GLAS proposals they can bring almost everyone with them.  No one would see reforms to GLAS as a climb down, they would applaud it as good management and common sense.
The Dept. of Agriculture  can make this work. Will they seize the chance, we will know soon enough.
P.S. The transcript of the Oireachtas Committee on Agricultures meeting with the Dept. of Agriculture can be found below.


Tuesday 4 November 2014

Oireachtas Agriculture Committee meeting with the Dept of Agriculture.

The Oireachtas Agriculture Committee meeting with officials from the dept of agriculture today was a very disappointing affair.  In spite of all the proposals made by stakeholders, the only hint at movement was in relation to the timeline for completion of commonage management plans. Although even in respect of this no firm details of any change were given.

Deputies O Cuiv and Kyne did their best to extract answers from the officials on how they hope to solve the many challenges that will be faced in progressing the commonage issue.  The replies were far from satisfactory.  One official highlighted the dangers that would be faced by Ireland if we persisted with maintaining the statue quo, no one will argue with him on that, but his colleagues handling of the issues connected with Glas were very unsatisfactory. It was wearisome to listen to the same tired old lines about the present proposals being arrived at after extensive consultations being trotted out again and again.

As I said earlier the officials were at pains to point out the risk that Ireland faces of a financial correction if the levels of activity on commonages do not increase. Unfortunately, I fear that the Dept. of Agriculture proposals increases rather than reduces the risk of such a correction.  It was stressed that a credible plan would buy sufficient time to address the issue. If a credible plan  is what is needed then I think we are all in big trouble.  The window of opportunity that exists to address the commonage issue is about to be wasted and the consequences of this will be serious.

I am certain that the small number of interested and experienced planners will continue to work with farmers and will try and resolve issues on as many commonages as they can.  However any successes will be in spite of, rather than because of the Dept. of Agriculture.  The Depts. failure to adopt a leadership role in this process is placing the entire project in jeopardy and is a sad indictment of public administration in this country.

For this reason it is more important than ever that farmers and planners work together, if that means working within a poorly thought out scheme then we will have to do it.  Together we will have to develop the systems needed to secure the future of farming on commonages.  We cannot let a failure of this process be pinned on us.  We cannot let the last blow be a self inflicted one.  This is not a satisfactory outcome but it is the only realistic one left.  I suggest that farming leaders and advisors in the main commonage counties should meet and seek to develop their own systems for co-ordinating a commonage planning process at a regional level. This should have a particular focus on how the larger commonages and more difficult sites can be dealt with.

The first training course for farm advisors starts next week, I assume the final details will be made public then. Let's hope we missed something today.
The full transcript of todays hearing will be available in a few days time, when it is ready it will be posted on this site

Oireachtas Committee to discuss the Commonage Issue with the Dept of Agriculture today

Agriculture Committee to discuss Rural Development Programme 2014-2020

Meeting likely to focus on Commonages policy concerns
3 November 2014

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine tomorrow to consider the Rural Development Programme 2014- 2020 (RDP). The RDP, which was submitted by the Department of Agriculture to the European Commission earlier in the year, sets out to provide €4 billion to rural communities in the coming years.

The Agri-environment GLAS scheme will provide €1.6 billion, while other strands of the scheme cover rural enterprise and social inclusion.

While wider aspects of the Rural Development Programme are likely to be considered at tomorrow's meeting, the Committee are expected to focus on concerns around commonages. Commonage farmers have concerns that the new RDP requires them to join commonage management plans in order of avail funding under the scheme.

Committee Chairman Andrew Doyle TD says: “With relations between hill and commonage farmers and Department Officials somewhat strained, the Committee will be keen to assess how a solution might be found to the impasse at tomorrow's meeting. Committee Members are acutely aware of the current issues involved in the management of commonages. Over the course of seven hearings in 2013, we examined the policy options to safeguard and enhance commonage lands. Our findings argued against a one-size-fits-all solution, noting that each management scheme must be based on and address the unique characteristics of individual commonages.

“The Report we produced drew on current best practice of successful management of these lands. For instance, Committee Members were hugely impressed with the common-sense approach that the Burren Life Programme has taken since its establishment. We heard that the Programme has been a win-win situation for all stakeholders, due to the farmer-led approach and a simple scoring system which forms the basis of payments. This simple, practical and effective model is held in high regard Europe Union-wide, and it therefore makes absolute sense to explore how similar programmes might be rolled out nationally.”  

Separately, the Committee will scrutinise of EU Legislative Proposal COM (2014) 180, which relates to the production and labelling of organic products. Department Officials will also be in attendance to assist the Committee in their consideration of this proposal. =

The meeting takes place tomorrow Tuesday 4 November at 2 pm in Committee Room 3, LH 2000. Commencing with discussion on commonages, proceedings can be viewed online by visiting www.oireachtas.ie

Committee proceedings can also be viewed on the move, through the Houses of the Oireachtas Smartphone App, available for Apple and Android devices.

Thursday 16 October 2014

A Solution for Commonages

The current state of play is far from satisfactory from the perspective of any of the stakeholders. Although at first glance the situation might appear almost hopeless, there is hope that a solution is close. For the first time, the farmers and advisors are largely singing of the same hymn sheet.  In response to Minister Coveney’s offer to consider any workable alternative to the Dept. of Agriculture proposals, we prepared a plan for a possible solution.  This document has been widely circulated among stakeholders including farmer representatives, farm advisors, DAFM officials and political figures over the past two weeks. These proposals were based on the lessons learned during a set of case studies on six different commonages in Co.’s Donegal, Wicklow, Sligo, Mayo, Galway and Kerry and on discussions with farm leaders and farm advisors throughout the west and northwest.  This study culminated in the publication earlier yesterday of a report on the prospects for the six selected commonages and the lessons that they have for the process nationally.

The recommendations made in this report are very similar to those that have been proposed by the ACA and are I feel broadly acceptable to hill farmers. They may offer a way out of the current difficulties that would be to the benefit of all concerned.

Commonage Case Studies Report

The current state of play is far from satisfactory from the perspective of any of the stakeholders. Although at first glance the situation might appear almost hopeless, there is hope that a solution is close. For the first time, the farmers and advisors are largely singing of the same hymn sheet.  In response to Minister Coveney’s offer to consider any workable alternative to the Dept. of Agriculture proposals, we prepared a plan for a possible solution.  This document has been widely circulated among stakeholders including farmer representatives, farm advisors, DAFM officials and political figures over the past two weeks. These proposals were based on the lessons learned during a set of case studies on six different commonages in Co.’s Donegal, Wicklow, Sligo, Mayo, Galway and Kerry and on discussions with farm leaders and farm advisors throughout the west and northwest.  This study culminated in the publication earlier yesterday of a report on the prospects for the six selected commonages and the lessons that they have for the process nationally.

The recommendations made in this report are very similar to those that have been proposed by the ACA and are I feel broadly acceptable to hill farmers. They may offer a way out of the current difficulties that would be to the benefit of all concerned.
For the full report follow the link below.


Sunday 28 September 2014

Commonage Information Meetings


Commonage Information Meetings

The Dept. of Agriculture will hold a series of information meetings for commonage farmers covering the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and the Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS), on the following dates. My understanding is that these meetings will be run on a clinic style with officials engaging with individuals or small groups rather than a formal meeting where the top table addresses a crowd.

Considering the changes coming down the tracks, it is in every commonage farmers interest to learn more about the proposals and what steps the farmers needs to take next. Availing of the opportunity presented by these information meetings is recommended to all.

Date                                                            Venue                                                                     Time

Tuesday 30th September             Knockranny House Hotel,                                                       8pm
                                                                 Co. Mayo

Tuesday 30th September                 Kenmare Bay Hotel,                                                            8pm
                                                                 Co. Kerry                                      

Wednesday 1st October                     Peacockes Hotel,                                                               8pm
                                                                Maam Cross
                                                                 Co. Galway

Thursday 2nd October                   The Glendalough Hotel,                                                        8pm
                                                                Co. Wicklow

Thursday 2nd October                        Nesbitt Arms Hotel,                                                         8pm
                                                                 Co. Donegal

Tuesday 7th October                          Four Seasons Hotel,                                                         8pm
                                                                    Co. Louth

Tuesday 7th October                              Parkway Hotel,                                                            8pm
                                                                      Co. Cork

Wednesday 8th October                      Clonmel Park Hotel,                                                      8pm
                                                                 Co. Tipperary

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Dis advantaged area scheme payments to start issuing today.

The Dept. of Agriculture, food and the Marine have announced that the first payments under the 2014 dis-advantaged area scheme will issue today.

Employment Opportunities

Yourcommonage has a number of vacancies for both new graduates and experienced farm planners. These are paid positions, they are not internships. See the Employment opportunities page on this site for more details.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Confirmation of the Settlement between the Dept of Agriculture and the Hill Farmers. .

There have been significant development on the commonage front over the past few weeks. With the Dail sitting again after the summer holidays it is not surprising that several T.D.s have raised the issue in the chamber.

Of particular interest is the response by Minister Coveney to  Deputy Brendan Griffins question on the issue of the collective agreement. The response by Minister Coveney puts on record what Departmental policy is and confirms the settlement with the hill farmers.

The full text of Deputy Griffins question and the Minister's response is given below.

Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the concerns of commonage farmers in respect of the 50% consent requirement for participation in GLAS, if he will address those concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  I have listened very carefully to the concerns of commonage farmers and I recognise that these concerns are real. Over the course of the consultation process on the new Rural Development Programme, which extended for a year and half, we have adapted and rebalanced our proposals for commonages quite significantly in the light of those concerns. A Commonage farmer shall apply individually for GLAS declaring that s/he is complying with the GLAS Commonage Management Plan (CMP). The CMP is to be submitted by an advisor i.e. one advisor and one plan per commonage.

 Where DAFM identifies that the 50% level of active shareholders cannot be reached the matter will be referred to the Commonage Implementation Committee for consideration and recommendation.

I think it is particularly important to point out that the 50% requirement is based on active farmers only, i.e. those actually grazing the commonage. To give an example, if there are 20 shareholders on a commonage, and 15 are claiming shares under the Single Payment Scheme, but only 10 of those are actively grazing the land at present, the 50% requirement to trigger priority access to GLAS is just 5 farmers.

I do not believe that a minimum participation requirement based on this model is insurmountable but where real difficulties are being encountered the farmers concerned can approach the Commonage Implementation Committee for assistance. I have also arranged for a series of public meetings at key locations nationwide so that farmers will have an opportunity for themselves to talk to officials from my Department and raise the issues that continue to give them concern. In the last few weeks, I think we have brought a good deal of clarity to the situation and I believe that there is a lot of common ground between what I have proposed and what hill-farmers themselves would like to see in place for their own commonages.

The key points to note in the Ministers response are:

1) GLAS applications are individual applications. This is a vital step forward as individual  applications lead to individual contracts.  This effectively removes any risk of collective punishment and was one of the hill farmers key demands.  

2) Confirmation that the participation of dormant shareholders is not required.

3) A commitment that even where less than 50% of active farmers in a commonage apply for GLAS that  active farmers are not necessarily excluded from the scheme. While adjudication on individual cases is being left to the Commonage Implementation Committee, it is in no ones interest to exclude active farmers and where valid reasons exist I am confident that GLAS approval will follow.

Concerns have been raised by some in the IFA about the one plan one planner requirement for the Commonage Management Plan, I believe these are unfounded. It is clear that if there are multiple plans in operation, than effectively there is no plan.  Multiple plans for the same commonage is a recipe for chaos and serves no ones interests. It follows that if there is to be one plan there can only be one planner.

My understanding is that the active farmers will select a commonage planner to help prepare their Commonage Management Plan. This choice should not obligate them to select that planner for their individual GLAS applications, although they would be free to do so if they wish. The GLAS plan will refer to the Commonage Management Plan just as REPS plans referred to the old Commonage Framework Plans. There is nothing new in this, except that now instead of having a plan imposed on them, the active farmers will have an opportunity to contribute to the development of a workable plan themselves.

This is new ground for planners as well, I believe it will lead to a degree of specialisation, with some planners choosing to focus on this issue, as we have and others more on filling the need for individual GLAS applications and support. If this leads to the efficient delivery of workable plans it will benefit farmers as well.

Monday 15 September 2014

Commonage Crisis

The Dept. of Agriculture appear unmoved from their opening position regarding the need for collective agreements as a requirement for joining GLAS.  All concerned should now be aware that we are very close to a point of no return, immediate and meaningful engagement between the farmers and the Dept. of Agriculture must take place in the coming days if we are to avoid doing permanent damage to hill farming.  

It is not ideal, but the work that should have been carried out over the last two years must now be completed in two weeks or less.  If it is not, GLAS risks complete failure in hill areas.
  • For the farmers this could mean a complete loss of agri-environment payments in the current round of the CAP.  If this happens how many will be there for the next CAP?
  • For the state, key objectives of the RDP would be unattainable. The programme could effectively fail before it begins. This is an appalling vista and would have far reaching consequences.
  • For farm advisors in the west, failure will destroy their business model. Investments in increasing capacity to deal with GLAS planning in commonage areas have already been put on hold and many planners, increasingly nervous about the volatility in the sector are already looking for alternatives.
All parties should recognise that while they have their own priorities, their fates are linked. They should appreciate the effect of the current situation on the morale, not just of their own sector but on the other parties as well and the risk of undesired reactions that this creates.

Everyone must accept that there will be no imposed solution, there will be no point where one group can declare victory. If an agreement is not reached that all parties can accept then GLAS will fail and the consequences will impact on everyone.

The situation demands cool heads, an ability to compromise and prompt action. The stakes have never been higher.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Simple Solution to the 50% agreement problem.


It would seem that the main issue dividing the two sides is the issue of the 50%+ of farmers signing up to a commonage plan as prerequisite to joining GLAS. Perhaps the way around this is in the contents of the proposed commonage plan itself. To date the Dept. of Agriculture have not committed to what a commonage plan would look like, it is still a blank canvas and so its design can give both sides room to manoeuvre.

Suggested Commonage Plan.

 Commonage Plan
Year 1 The farmers on this commonage will in conjunction with a specialist planner develop a grazing strategy for the commonage.
Years 2-5 The farmers on this commonage will implement the grazing strategy developed in year 1."

I think this would meet most of the farmers needs and allow the Dept. of Agriculture to proceed with the requirement for a 50% threshold for participation in GLAS. It also allows a year for the grazing strategy to be finalised and avoids the risks associated with a rushed plan prior to GLAS applications.  

Saturday 30 August 2014

Lobbying Politicians on the Commonage issue.

We have received a number of requests regarding lobbying of TD's on resolving the commonage issue. As a response to this I have collated the e-mail addresses for all of the T.D's in the main commonage counties and listed them below. The contact details for other T.D.'s can be found on the Oireachtas website www.oireachtas.ie. In general they take the form of Christian name initial.surname@oireachtas.ie all in lower case letters with no spaces.

Mr. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Constituency: Donegal North-East Party: Sinn Féin (2011) padraig.maclochlainn@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Charlie McConalogue Constituency: Donegal North-East Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) charlie.mcconalogue@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Joe McHugh Constituency: Donegal North-East Party: Fine Gael (2011) joe.mchugh@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Pearse Doherty Constituency: Donegal South-West Party: Sinn Féin (2011) pearse.doherty@oireachtas.ie  

Mr. Dinny McGinley Constituency: Donegal South-West Party: Fine Gael (2011) dinny.mcginley@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Thomas Pringle Constituency: Donegal South-West Party: Independent thomas.pringle@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael Colreavy Constituency: Sligo Leitrim North Party: Sinn Féin (2011) michael.colreavy@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Tony McLoughlin Constituency: Sligo Leitrim North Party: Fine Gael (2011) tony.mcloughlin@oireachtas.ie

Mr. John Perry Constituency: Sligo Leitrim North Party: Fine Gael (2011) john.perry@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Frank Feighan Constituency: Roscommon Leitrim South Party: Fine Gael (2011) frank.feighan@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (No longer a TD as he was elected to the European Parliament). Constituency: Roscommon Leitrim South Party: Independent

Mr. Denis Naughten Constituency: Roscommon Leitrim South Party: Independent Denis.Naughten@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Dara Calleary Constituency: Mayo Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) dara.calleary@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Enda Kenny Constituency: Mayo Party: Fine Gael (2011) enda.kenny@oireachtas.ie

Ms. Michelle Mulherin Constituency: Mayo Party: Fine Gael (2011) michelle.mulherin@oireachtas.ie

Mr. John O'Mahony Constituency: Mayo Party: Fine Gael (2011) john.omahony@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael Ring Constituency: Mayo Party: Fine Gael (2011) michael.ring@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Noel Grealish Constituency: Galway West Party: Independent noel.grealish@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Seán Kyne Constituency: Galway West Party: Fine Gael (2011) sean.kyne@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Derek Nolan Constituency: Galway West Party: The Labour Party (2011) derek.nolan@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Éamon Ó Cuív Constituency: Galway West Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) eamon.ocuiv@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Brian Walsh Constituency: Galway West Party: Fine Gael (2011) brian.walsh@oireachtas

Mr. Ciaran Cannon Constituency: Galway East Party: Fine Gael (2011) ciaran.cannon@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Paul J Connaughton Constituency: Galway East Party: Fine Gael (2011) paulj.connaughton@oir.ie

Mr. Colm Keaveney Constituency: Galway East Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) colm.keaveney@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael P. Kitt Constituency: Galway East Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) michael.kitt@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Jimmy Deenihan Constituency: Kerry North Limerick West Party: Fine Gael (2011) jimmy.deenihan@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Martin Ferris Constituency: Kerry North Limerick West Party: Sinn Féin (2011) martin.ferris@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Arthur Spring Constituency: Kerry North Limerick West Party: The Labour Party (2011) arthur.spring@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Tom Fleming Constituency: Kerry South Party: Independent tom.fleming@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Brendan Griffin Constituency: Kerry South Party: Fine Gael (2011) brendan.griffin@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael Healy-Rae Constituency: Kerry South Party: michael.healy-rae@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Jim Daly Constituency: Cork South-West Party: Fine Gael (2011) jim.daly@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Noel Harrington Constituency: Cork South-West Party: Fine Gael (2011) noel.harrington@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael McCarthy Constituency: Cork South-West Party: The Labour Party (2011) michael.mccarthy@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Paudie Coffey Constituency: Waterford Party: Fine Gael (2011) paudie.coffey@oireachtas.ie

Ms. Ciara Conway Constituency: Waterford Party: The Labour Party (2011) ciara.conway@oireachtas.ie

Mr. John Deasy Constituency: Waterford Party: Fine Gael (2011) john.deasy@oireachtas.ie

Mr. John Halligan Constituency: Waterford Party: Independent john.halligan@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Tom Hayes Constituency: Tipperary South Party: Fine Gael (2011) tom.hayes@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Seamus Healy Constituency: Tipperary South Party: Workers and Unemployed Action Group South-Tipperary seamus.healy@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Mattie McGrath Constituency: Tipperary South Party: Independent mattie.mcgrath@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Noel J Coonan Constituency: Tipperary North Party: Fine Gael (2011) noel.coonan@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Alan Kelly Constituency: Tipperary North Party: The Labour Party (2011) alan.kelly@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Michael Lowry Constituency: Tipperary North Party: Independent michael.lowry@oireachtas

Mr. Stephen Donnelly Constituency: Wicklow Party: Independent stephen.donnelly@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Andrew Doyle Constituency: Wicklow Party: Fine Gael (2011) andrew.doyle@oireachtas.ie

Ms. Anne Ferris Constituency: Wicklow Party: The Labour Party (2011) anne.ferris@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Simon Harris Constituency: Wicklow Party: Fine Gael (2011) simon.harris@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Billy Godfrey Timmins Constituency: Wicklow Party: Independent billy.timmins@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Gerry Adams Constituency: Louth Party: Sinn Féin (2011) gerry.adams@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Peter Fitzpatrick Constituency: Louth Party: Fine Gael (2011) peterm.fitzpatrick@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Séamus Kirk Constituency: Louth Party: Fianna Fáil (2011) seamus.kirk@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Gerald Nash Constituency: Louth Party: The Labour Party (2011) gerald.nash@oireachtas.ie

Mr. Fergus O'Dowd Constituency: Louth Party: Fine Gael (2011) fergus.odowd@oireachtas.ie

Sunday 24 August 2014

How do we bridge the gap between the Dept. of Agricultures position and that of the Hill Farmers?

Let us analyse the key issues of concern for each party.

Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The Dept of Agriculture does not believe that a contract with an individual can deliver, as actions of third parties can impact on the condition of the commonage. They see 50% support for a management agreement as the minimum required to ensure appropriate management, they would hope that greater support will be possible and that the level of buy in can be built on in future years.

Hill Farmers.
The Hill Farmers are very concerned about collective responsibility and the potential for this to lead to collective punishment. They are concerned about the requirement for a management agreement with 50% support as a pre requisite for entry into GLAS and they are worried that eligibility for the Basic Payment Scheme could be based on the current min/ max figures. They know that it will be impossible for management agreement to be drawn up on all but the simplest of cases to permit entry into GLAS in 2015 and fear that for all practical purposes many of them would be excluded anyway even if agreement was possible. Likewise they are concerned that the use of the min / max figures for assessing eligibility for the Basic Payment Scheme will leave many farmers without any entitlement to payment under pillar 1 as well.

How can we progress from here?
While the two positions appear poles apart, the problem may not be as big as many fear.   Clearly the requirement for agreements as requirement to join GLAS is a non starter. There are not enough interested planners available and no model exists for how such agreements could be delivered, the support from farmers is non-existent and the time available is far too short.   But now let’s look at how relatively minor changes might bring both parties to something that perhaps everyone could work with. To start let’s focus on the points that neither side would dispute.

• A one size fits all approach will not work.
• A co-operative approach to commonage management is needed. Only the farmers can deliver this.

Now, take the heat out of the debate, first change the language, drop the term “collective”. It has uneasy echoes of Stalinist Russia and raises fears of collective punishment; in any case the term itself has now become part of the problem. Second be realistic about the time frames required and be honest about what is achievable over the term of this round of the CAP. Now for a solution in 5 short paragraphs.

1) Let farmers join GLAS on the basis of a Declaration of intent to work with a specialist planner to develop a commonage management plan by 2017. This plan balances the needs and requirements of each farmer with the management requirements for the commonage. There is no need for any minimum % agreement, the plan will apply to all farmers, the agreement required is to work with the planner in developing a bespoke solution for that commonage. In any case engaging with the process offers huge advantages for the farmer. Potentially it allows his commitment to be outside the min/ max range provided of course that it fits in with the needs for appropriate stocking on the commonage.

2) Once the Commonage Plan is drawn up, it becomes binding on all the farmers. It is part of their contract and if a farmer fails to abide by his commitment, he gets penalised for non-compliance. There is nothing new in this; we had commonage framework plans in the past that applied to all shareholders but where the responsibility for compliance remained with the individual. What is proposed merely replaces a CFP imposed from above with a Commonage Plan developed with the participation of the farmers themselves, surely a much more democratic process.

3) Apply min/max figures developed in the commonage plan in accordance with the size of an individual’s shareholding to farmers who do not engage with the process. Obviously non engagement would represent non compliance and perhaps could incur a penalty. I am certain however that the flexibilities offered by engaging with the development of a tailored commonage plan will be preferred by most farmers to a crude breakdown of min/max figures.

4) Eligibility for the Basic Payment Scheme on land that is naturally maintained in a condition suitable for grazing is dependent on a minimum level of use. This minimum level of use is decided by each member state and to my knowledge in Ireland is as yet undecided. Whatever level is eventually decided on, I think everyone accepts that a transition period will be required. During this transition period demonstrating use of the commonage at any level should be considered good enough. After that if the farmer complies with the new commonage plan he should by definition be considered as demonstrating a minimum level of use. For farmers who opt to stay out of GLAS, a stocking rate of perhaps 0.5 times the rate prescribed in the commonage plan could be required as a minimum level of use. This would link the minimum rate to a level appropriate to the commonage in question, but at a level below what is required for pillar 2 schemes like GLAS.

5) The cost of developing the Commonage Plan must be acknowledged by both sides, in reality the only way of doing this is for the commonage planner to be paid directly by the state. This was the case with the Commonage Framework plans and remains the only feasible delivery mechanism. Developing plans will be a huge undertaking but in the context of the amount of money that will potentially be involved (in paying GLAS, ANC and BPS on commonage farms) the cost will be very small beer. Nevertheless to proceed without making provision for the investment required in Commonage planning would be reckless indeed. Payments direct to planners are already included in the RDP for knowledge transfer, with a little imagination this issue could be accommodated as well.

The Dept get buy in to a joint management programme from the shareholders with a stocking commitment appropriate to the commonage. The farmers get access to GLAS based on a workable commonage plan without any suggestion of them being penalised for the sins of others.
Now that wasn’t so hard was it?