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.