Saturday 6 December 2014

Commonage Management, the Current Position

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. The EU have responded to Irelands RDP application with over 200 questions, the training courses for farm advisors have taken place, the hill farmers have had their meeting with the Minister and hill farmers have demonstrated their concerns with a mass meeting in Maam Cross and the March for Fairness in Castlebar.

We know that behind the scenes meetings between the Dept. of Agriculture and the EU Commission are ongoing. The outcome of this process of bi lateral meetings will be known within a month or so. But considerable change has already occurred, changes which are perhaps more significant than many people appreciate.

These are;

1) The scrapping of the minimum stocking rate to qualify for the Basic Payment Scheme on Commonage and marginal lands.

2) The statement issued by the IFA on the 5th of December.
"Pat Dunne said that one of the big concerns for hill farmers under the new GLAS rules was that plans might not be completed for farmers to join the scheme. IFA got a commitment from the Minister that the Commonage Implementation Committee will intervene in such cases and get Planners to do the Plan. This plan will in turn allow commonage shareholders to partake in the GLAS scheme and secure must needed support."

3) Minister Coveney's response to a parliamentary question asked by Pearse Doherty on the 4th of December where he concluded his statement with.
"I met this week with a number of farmers who expressed concerns regarding the commonage management plans.  While I have addressed certain elements of these concerns, I am reviewing their submission in the context of the threshold for environmental action which must be demonstrated in order to receive GLAS approval at EU level."*

The first point is the most significant. Up to now the Dept. of Agriculture's position was that to be eligible for payment on a commonage both the farmer and the commonage had to qualify as being eligible. In the farmers case this was by meeting a minimum stocking rates. In the case of the commonage the land had to be "farmed". Now qualification is to be based on the condition of the commonage alone. This effectively makes the Basic Payment Scheme on commonages an objectives based scheme rather than an actions based scheme. This is very significant as it means that the current situation where some farmers are "inactive" on a commonage while others manage flocks in excess of what their share might permit can continue where that is the wish of the farmers concerned. There is an informal trade off here farmer A gets his Basic Payment Scheme, Farmer B gets his payments as well but is also able to keep a viable flock. Now obviously there are difficulties where nobody farms the hill at all but I think it is unreasonable to expect direct payments to continue in these cases. Although it has to be said that even here the farmers still have a short window of opportunity to change their management and secure their payments.

If Pat Dunne is correct the second point is also very significant.  Think about it "if a group of farmers could not get an advisor to produce a commonage management plan that the CIC (Commonage Implementation Committee) would intervene and get planners to do the plan".  This can only mean that the CIC will appoint a planner to such a commonage.  Everyone accepts that it would be preferable if the farmers could get an advisor of their choice to do the plan. But equally we have to accept that this may not always be achievable and that there will be a need for directing available planning resources to where they are needed.  This role can only be filled by the Dept. of Agriculture.  If what the IFA are claiming is true then the Dept. of Agriculture are effectively agreeing to Point 6 of the Hill Farmers 12 point plan.

"The central clearing house will allocate an available advisor from a pool of trained advisors who operate in that geographical area. Where farmers have nominated an advisor, the clearing house will where possible appoint that advisor to the case. This system will prioritise planning resources to commonages with farmer support for the process. The advisor will work with the farmers in that commonage to develop a commonage management plan."

This is a big concession as it expands the Dept. of Agriculture role (through the CIC) in the commonage management planning process. In effect it has them adopting the leadership role in the process that we have always advocated. It could lead to further positive developments regarding training of advisors and planning standards.

Now I accept that the last point is a bit vague and we will have to wait and see what the Minister actually means but it is significant that he is considering their submission in the context of gaining GLAS approval at EU level.  The negotiations in Brussels will lead to more changes and I believe they will lead to a better scheme. Farmers and Planners will not get all of what they want but there is progress, slow and painful perhaps but progress nonetheless.

*The submission referred to  is  a reference to the Hill Farmers 12 Point plan based on the proposal made in the Case Studies document published by the EFNCP and written by Fergal Monaghan, James Moran and Michael Martyn.

No comments: