Thursday 26 June 2014

Need to clarify the base for calculating 50/ 80% required for Priority Access

The Irish Farmers Journal has reported today that the qualified majority of shareholders required for priority access to GLAS will be 50/80% out of the total number of shareholders and not out of the active shareholders. If true this is true then it is a recipe for failure. As the average dormancy rate on Irish Commonages is approx. 35%, it is certain that the 80% agreement for priority access will be unattainable in almost all cases. The lower threshold of 50% could still be reached but in most commonages it would require almost unanimous support among the active shareholders.  The lack of clarity on this and other issues means that GLAS is getting off to a very poor start.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Submission on the SEA of the Rural Develpment Programme.

Fergal Monaghan of YourCommonage along with James Moran (Sligo IT), Brendan Dunford (BurrenLIFE), Patrick McGurn (AranLIFE) and Michael Martyn (Martyn Agri-Environmental Consultants) made a submission on the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the proposed RDP application. In respect of commonages we proposed that commonage associations if the farmers wished to set up one should be eligible to apply for a GLAS payment in its own right. Such a payment would be in addition to the payments made to the farmers through their individual GLAS contracts and would cover measures that can only be delivered by the group, e.g. production of a sustainable management plan, control of Molinia, fencing etc. This approach would not be compulsory but should be available as an option to farmers in all commonages. We believe that it would offer all stakeholders in the process a mechanism for delivering good commonage governance. Just as importantly it would offer all sides a way out of their current entrenched positions and deliver a workable solution for Commonages with the GLAS scheme. An extract of the portion of the submission relating to commonages is shown below.

In the case of commonage land:
- for actions which are wholly under the control of an individual shareholder (individual stocking numbers, stock type, shepherding practices) the eligible applicant is the individual shareholder farmer through the farm application
- for any other actions the only eligible applicant is a graziers association duly constituted as a legal person and allocated a business reference number (equivalent to herd number for individual applicants). A graziers association is eligible for the full allowance of GLAS funding in its own right.
Since any application on commonage has to be underpinned by a single habitat/species assessment and commonage management plan, irrespective of whether collective measures are subsequently proposed, it will in practice be necessary for potential participants to come together to commission such an assessment and plan. It is also the case that time will not allow the completion of the management plan before the closing of the first application window. To recognise these practical issues, it will therefore be a requirement that all such applicants sign a joint declaration of intent before application, certifying that:
  • they will apply to GLAS in relation to the commonage in the first year
  • they will ensure that the overall stocking on the commonage falls within the draft max/min range for the duration of that first year
  • they will have a management plan prepared and a 5 year collective agreement between themselves based on that plan drawn up before the first anniversary of the date on their AE contracts.
  • each individual GLAS application will refer to the obligations set out for that shareholder or association in the collective agreement
  • they will subsequently implement that agreement for the remaining 4 years, with a full review after 2 years (and annually if necessary).
We are not convinced of the need to apply fixed rules regarding the proportion of shareholders and/or of those claiming commonage forage on their SAF and/or of active graziers who need to participate in the agreement or to undertake positive management eligible for payment under this scheme. Practical questions are likely to make agreements which involve only a small proportion of active graziers or active direct payments. However, should the Department deem such thresholds to be necessary, they should be of direct payments claimants in the previous year, not of all
shareholders. A list of commonages with the number of shareholders claiming forage on each should be made available each year as soon as all SAF submissions have been processed.

Proposed commonage application process, step by step
Before AE application

  1. Farmers individually decide they interested and one of them takes the initiative to call a meeting of shareholders
  2. Meeting, ideally attended by an advisor/Commons Development Officer to ensure full understanding of scheme in detail, its process and potential pitfalls, decides to try to secure the agreed (specified?) % of SPS-claiming shareholders (based on latest year’s claims data) signing up to declaration of intent
  3. Someone (farmer ideally, but possibly a planner) undertakes the job of getting active and claiming shareholders signed up to a declaration of intent (see above)
  4. Each farmer can then apply for AE, with the conditions being as per the declaration of intent.
  5. First year after AE application
  6. A habitat assessment and draft management plan will be drawn up by a registered planner – who may or may not subsequently prepare some or all of the GLAS applications. To recognise the extra transaction costs of drawing up and implementing such an agreement on commonage, management payment rates for commonage will be 30% higher than those for other rough grazings (Art. 28.6).
  7. Shareholders can avail themselves of the services of a Commons Development Officer to translate the habitat/species assessment and draft management plan into a workable internal agreement between the participating shareholders.
  8. Any management options which are not fully under the control of the individual applicant, can only be applied for by a properly constituted graziers’ association, which would then also be a signatory to the internal agreement along with the individual participating farmers. Once again, payments would include a 30% collaboration transaction cost top-up compared to sole occupancy farms (Art. 28.6). Free facilitation support would be available for forming this association, as would be a modest 50% grant for legal costs to draw up the necessary articles of association (Art. 35). The association must be open to any shareholder who is active and/or claiming BPS/ANC payments on the commonage. Where no such actions are deemed necessary, the lack of an association would not preclude the drawing up of an agreement and to the inclusion of commonage options in individual GLAS applications
  9. Linking to output-related locally targeted measures
  10. Any locally-targeted, output-related scheme for commonage would only be open to graziers’ associations.
Note: The declaration of intent is a mechanism to replace the 50/ 80% rule proposed by the Dept of Agriculture. The 50/ 80% rule does not offer an adequate mechanism for progress towards achieving good commonage governance. Among other things it does not have the flexibility to allow the time required to develop a sustainable management plan and an agreement based on that plan in advance of the submission of GLAS applications. These are fundamental issues that demand adequate time for consideration and delivery. By using a declaration of Intent, the farmers are not signing upto an agreement at the time of applying for GLAS, rather they are declaring that they will work towards developing an agreement between themselves during the course of their first year in GLAS. This treats the Commonage Governance issue in a manner similar to that proposed for the Nutrient Management component of GLAS applications.. It should allow for commonage agreements to be developed in an orderly manner that can win the support of a majority of active farmers.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

GLAS, What will happen next?

What will happen next? The RDP application will be made at the end of the month, it will then be reviewed in Brussels, but as the Commission effectively shuts down for the month of August it is unlikely that formal approval will issue before late September.  The issuing of approval is unlikely to lead to an opening of the scheme in October, as the specifications for GLAS and the other schemes will still need to be finalised.  In addition I am sure that testing of the DAFM systems particularly software for the operation of the new scheme will still need to be completed.  All of these issues are likely to delay the opening for applications until late November/ early December at the earliest.
Between now and then all interested parties should pay close attention to the development of specifications and the terms and conditions for the new scheme, the fine detail in these documents may be of greater significance for farmers than the contents of the RDP application. Finally it is almost certain that we will see movement on the issue of an appeals board for the commonage review. How this will function and how it will fit in with the GLAS application window is still unclear but I expect more details on this will be available very soon.
While we have no firm indication of what the closing date for applications will be. However for all practical purposes it will effectively be the end of March 2015.  Once we get into April, farmers and farm advisors focus will have to shift towards SPS applications. If an application is not finalised by then it will be unlikely to get in to GLAS on the first round.  This leaves advisors with a maximum of four months to prepare 25,000 to 30,000 applications.  Considering the inevitable slow start this is a tall order. For this reason as well as for political considerations, I am certain that DAFM will not want to delay the opening of the scheme beyond early December.  Every day lost after that will have implications for the quantity and quality of applications.

GLAS and Commonage Management, Latest Developments.

The last round of consultation for the new RDP has closed and we expect the Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make their application to Brussels by the end of the month. I hope that the details of the application will be published as soon as possible after they have been sent to the EU Commission.

As regards GLAS, I do not expect there will be significant changes from the structure proposed by the Dept. What we can hope for it that the process of filling in the information gaps that have contributed to the unease felt by many will pick up speed. However one key issue has been clarified in recent days, this is the method for calculating the qualified majority required for priority entry to the scheme. Minister Coveney has confirmed that the 50/ 80% required will be from the set of farmers currently declaring a share on the commonage and not from the total set of shareholders. This is an important development as a requirement for majority support of total shareholders would in many cases have been absolutely impossible. It is unfortunate that this issue was not dealt with many months ago as it could have eased some of the concerns of many commonage shareholders.