Sunday 21 February 2016

Commonages, SAC's, Farming, GLAS and the Election. Who deserves your vote ?

Tip O Neill famously said that all politics is local.  However in the debate on the commonage issue, a number of T.D’s have engaged on a level that far exceeded their own local constituency concerns.

Over the life of the last Dail, the commonage issue came to prominence on a number of occasions. The first was in 2012, the last tranche of applications were being made to the AEOS scheme and the Dept. of Agriculture had just published a desk study of minimum and maximum stocking levels for each commonage.  The inconsistencies and errors, both in the figures and in the manner proposed for their implementation provoked a storm of protest. This led directly to the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee’s decision in 2013 to consider the issue in detail and to consult with a range of stakeholders. Their report was balanced and fair and while not a solution to the current problems, it certainly demonstrated that some politicians at least were ready and willing to engage with the topic and focused on developing a long term solution. Andrew Doyle (Fine Gael, Wicklow) and Eamonn O Cuiv (Fianna Fail, Galway West) deserve particular credit in this regard.

In the summer of 2014, the Dept. of Agriculture’s vision for the treatment of commonages in GLAS became apparent. The proposals revolved around 80% plus participation in a collective agreement prior to joining the scheme, the use of the previously published min/ max figures and joint responsibility for non compliance. These proposals were a cause of great concern and thousands of hill farmers attended mass meetings in Westport, Maam Cross and in Donegal. Many felt that these proposals were being presented to farmers as a fait accompli and that farmers concerns were being ignored. A rolling picket by hill farmers at the Taoiseach’s Constituency Office followed. The deadlock was only broken when Minister Coveney agreed that the Commonage Implementation Committee should meet with a delegation representing  the hill farmers. The lead up to this was brokered by a third party but the key political intermediary was Sean Kyne (Fine Gael, Galway West). The time for a solution was already very short, without his intervention it would have been shorter still.

While there were setbacks after this, engagement with farmers and advisors continued. The proposals for commonages in GLAS were steadily modified; the 80% agreement was reduced to 50% and later abolished. The Commonage Management Plans were to be based on the actual condition of the site and the min/ max figures were reduced to the status of guidelines only. GLAS applications were permitted in advance of agreement on a Commonage plan, the proposal for joint responsibility for non-compliance related to stocking levels was withdrawn and the time for developing plans was extended until autumn 2016. The scheme we have today is by no means perfect but is it far better than what was proposed in the summer of 2014. The meeting between the CIC and the hill farmers and the talks that led to that meeting were the turning point in this process.

Throughout the last Dail, a number of T.D.’s made use of Parliamentary Questions to get clarifications on policy developments from the Minister. Indeed for a period this was the main source of information for all stakeholders. The list of T.D.’s who did this includes, in no particular order Pearse Doherty (Sinn Fein), Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael), Dara Calleary (Fianna Fail), Tony McLoughlin (Fine Gael), Joe McHugh (Fine Gael), Martin Ferris (Sinn Fein), Michael Healy Rae (Independent), and Michael Fitzmaurice (Independent). Although once again Eamonn O Cuiv and Sean Kyne deserve special mention.  

Should all of this influence a commonage farmers vote on Friday?

The decision on who to vote for obviously includes a lot more than just a candidate’s record on agriculture. But that said, if commonage farmers want agricultural policy to develop in a manner that recognizes their unique contribution, they must have friendly voices in the Dail chamber and next Friday is their chance to achieve this. Hopefully some of those who have demonstrated the greatest interest will be in positions of influence in the next Dail. Having a person with a real understanding of the subject as Minister for Agriculture, as a Minister of State, on the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee or as an Opposition spokesperson would be a real help. Needless to say, the essential first step is to get them elected.

The next Government, (if it serves its full term) will have to deal with the mid- term review of the Common Agricultural Policy and crucially with the formulation of the next Rural Development Programme (2021- 2027). It will preside over the implementation of the current RDP and the design of the next one. The election of T.D.'s with a proven interest in the management of commonages and designated land will really matter. Although what has happened over the last 5 years is important, what is really crucial is the direction that the incoming Government will take on these issues in the years to come. If we want real progress, we have to give politicians with an understanding of farming on commonages and on marginal and designated lands a strong mandate. Only you can do that.    

Going back to Tip O Neill, all politics is local and in our system, the margin between success and failure at the polls can be very narrow. Every vote does count, have your say on Friday or someone else will speak for you.  

Friday 19 February 2016

All GLAS farmers to make on line BPS applications in 2016

The 2016 Basic Payment Scheme will open for applications next week. This application is the key to payments under all of the schemes run by the Dept of Agriculture. The number of farmers making their applications on line, either themselves or through their advisor continues to rise, it reached almost 60% in 2014 and just shy of 70% in 2015.

This year, farmers who are in GLAS will not receive a BPS application form. They will receive maps of the land that they declared in 2015 in the post but there will be no paper application form. They must make their BPS application on line.  This is a continuation of a process that started last year when organic farmers and certain tillage farmers were obliged to make on line applications. We forecast that paper applications will cease for all farmers by 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

While farmers and advisors will get an extra day to complete applications this year (May 15th is a Sunday so the closing date is extended until Monday the 16th of May) do not delay, contact your advisor as soon as possible and get the process started. Do not worry about rental agreements that have not been finalised, amendments to the BPS application can be made after the closing date.

On a separate note, Fergal Monaghan one of the yourcommonage team will be on Ear to the Ground next Tuesday evening (Feb 23rd) on RTE 1 at 8:30. The program is focusing on the problems faced by farmers on commonages generally and on the Roxborough commonage in South Galway in particular.

Thursday 11 February 2016

Trading Basic Payment Scheme Entitlements.

Our clients have a large requirement for BPS entitlements both to purchase and to lease. If you have surplus entitlements we can connect you with a buyer. We will collect all payments from the buyer before any transaction is allowed to proceed. These are held in a client account until the transaction is completed and when the transfer is confirmed by the Dept. of Agriculture, the funds are forwarded to the seller. This system is safe and secure and protects the interest of both parties. 

Why should you consider selling or leasing entitlements. Lets look at three good reasons. 

1) Investing in Higher Value Entitlements. You wish to invest in higher value entitlements on your own farm. As you need 1 Ha of eligible land for watch entitlement your existing lower value entitlemnts are surplus to your requirements. If you do not use them for two years they will be lost to the National Reserve. The solution is too lease in higher value entitlements and lease out your own lower value ones. 

2) Rented Land, No Longer Available. As there is no provision for stacking of entitlements and you have a land rental agreement that is coming to an end. Firstly you want to secure your entitlements for the future and second you want to get an income from those entitlements in 2016. If you lease them out you get some income from them and they will revert to you at the end of the lease. They are not lost to the National Reserve and if your land area increases in the future you can use them again yourself. 

3) Reduction in Eligible Area. You have sold land and no longer have 1 Ha for each entitlement. You are no longer able to draw down payments on all of your entitlements as you do not have the land to match them. By selling or leasing them out you are generating an income from what would otherwise be lost. 

Remember this is the first year that entitlements can be leased without land. The option of stacking entitlements that existed in the past is no longer available. If entitlements are not matched with land they risk being lost to the National Reserve. 

For further information, please contact us at or call Fergal Monaghan at (087) 2356668.

Thursday 4 February 2016

GLAS 2 Contract Letters are on their Way

The first letters confirming GLAS 2 contracts have arrived with farmers. 

Applications from 7,097 Tier 1 candidates were received and 6,746 of these are being approved immediately, with the balance under review. For Tier 2, a total of 4,198 applications were received and 3,975 of these are being approved immediately, with the balance similarly under review.
All GLAS 2 applications from new entrants to farming in 2015, and from new farm partnerships, are being granted priority access under this round, including applications by Tier 3 candidates. These are applicants who had been unable to apply under GLAS 1, for technical reasons, 
The applications that are under review would include a small number of cases where software or data issues prevented the submission of a complete application. The advisors involved have already been informed of this and provision has been made for these cases to be resubmitted once the technical issues have been resolved. Once this occurs these applicants will be assessed using the same criteria as applied to all other applications.
A further tranche of the Scheme will be launched in the Autumn.

Country Reports on the Implementation of the CAP.

The European Forum for Nature Conservation and Pastoralism have published a series of reports on the implementation of the CAP in different EU member states. These reports have a particular focus on how the the RDP in each state impacts on pastoral farming and on farmers utilising marginal lands. The reports include ones for Ireland, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Spain and the UK. 

The reports are a very good synopsis of how the member states have implemented the CAP. What is particularly interesting is the range of different interpretations that the different countries have taken. The regulations at EU level are the obviously common to all but the range of approaches taken in different member states demonstrates the flexibility contained within the regulations. 

Links to the country reports can be found below.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

National Launch of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association are having their National launch  in the Castlecourt Hotel, Westport on the 5th February 2016. 

This is a new start for the representation of  hill and commonage farmers. We hope and expect that the new organisation will be able to communicate the very real concerns of farmers with commonage and designated land to the Dept. of Agriculture, NPWS and Local Authorities. We are certain that this will lead to an increased appreciation and understanding of the very particular circumstances faced by those who farm on commonages and on designated land. A greater understanding of hill farming will facilitate and encourage improvements in the design of future schemes and help us all avoid the difficulties that have arisen in the past. The INHFA will have a lot to do but they have already achieved quite a bit and while the future will be challenging I believe the leadership of the new organisation are up to the task. Certainly those who have brought the organisation to this stage deserve a lot credit

 All of us here at wish the new organisation every success in the future.