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
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.