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.

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