Monday 26 May 2014

Recent Commonage Developments.

The Minister for Agriculture has announced further details of the RDP that will be submitted to Brussels at the end of June. Shortly after this the Dept. of Agriculture published the SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment) of the RDP and an Appropriate Assessment of the RDP. The SEA is an overarching analysis of the environmental impacts positive and negative of the proposed measures. It also examines the steps that could be taken to mitigate the more adverse impacts. The AA is an examination of how the RDP impacts on NATURA sites, i.e. SAC and SPA lands. Inevitably there is a considerable overlap between the two documents. Both documents, along with the Ministers statement give us some further indication of the developing thinking on the commonage issue.

The most significant development is the introduction of a lower qualified majority for a commonage agreement for entry to GLAS at tier 2 priority. This is a welcome development and will facilitate progress on many commonages, the reduced priority attached to this lower qualified majority means that entry into GLAS may not happen till 2016. The second development of significance is the publication of the Dept. of Agriculture's target for GLAS participation among commonage farmers. They hope to have 150,000 Ha of commonage land in GLAS or GLAS+ contracts. This is about 50% of the commonage area declared on the 2013 SPS returns. This is ambitious and if it is to be realised considerable support for the process will be needed.

The lowering of the threshold for a qualified majority of shareholders will help, as will the Ministers statement in the Dail that mediators will be provided where required to facilitate agreements and that we can expect a roll out of this process over the next 12- 18 months. No information has been provided to date on how this would be done.

While we await developments on this issue it may be helpful to look at the situation in Wales where the Government there faced similar issues (albeit on a smaller scale). They opted to use LEADER and technical assistance funds to employ 18 Commonage Development Officers to facilitate agreements among commonage farmers. Is it possible that a similar approach could be used here?,d.ZGU

Friday 9 May 2014

Commonage Changes, Common sense, is it starting to breakthrough?

The Minister for Agriculture gave an indication of how he sees the commonage management issue developing. In response to a question from Sean Kyne TD, Minister Coveney announced that he sees the need for change, but acknowledges that it cannot be rushed through. He hopes that over the next 12-18 months changes on individual commonages can be progressed. He is also proposing that where necessary a mediator could be put in place to help facilitate agreement. Earlier the Minister announced that a final draft of the GLAS document would be published next week. It will be interesting to see how the commonage issue is addressed within the context of GLAS. It would be a backward step if farmers are discouraged from that scheme by virtue of the delays in addressing the commonage management question. I hope that will not be the case but we will know soon enough.

The full text of Sean Kyne's question and the Ministers response is given below.

Seán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)

I thank the Minister and acknowledge the negotiations he has had with the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, over a period to have this matter rectified. He indicated yesterday that he would instruct his Department to make the interim payment. Minimum and maximum figures were produced for commonages previously. When will farmers be consulted on the future of the commonage framework grants system?

Simon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

This is a complex issue but one with which we have to deal. The discussion process is under way. We have been talking to farm organisations about the best way to do this. I have made it clear within the Department that we are not simply going to send letters to everybody in commonage areas instructing them that there is a change in the stocking rate on their commonage. As the two Deputies who have asked these questions know, within commonages there is a need for co-operation. Sometimes, however, this co-operation is difficult to obtain because of the personalities involved. Where possible, we will have to make changes in commonages where it is straightforward to do so. However, there will be some commonages where the challenges will take a little more time to overcome. If necessary, we will put a mediator in place to obtain full co-operation with the changes made. If the stocking rate changes, it impacts on everybody farming on a commonage and they have to act collectively. To answer the Deputy's question directly, it will take as long as it takes, but we are not going to rush and force farmers into a situation that is unacceptable to them. I expect the process to be rolled out in the next 12 to 18 months.