DAS changes ‘‘must be reversed’’

IFA Hill Committee Chairman, Tom Fadian has called for an extension of the closing date for farmers who are applying for a derogation of the stocking rate criteria in order to qualify for the 2012 scheme. The closing date which is this Friday, August 24 must be extended to 3rd September by Minister Coveney he said.

IFA Hill Committee Chairman, Tom Fadian has called for an extension of the closing date for farmers who are applying for a derogation of the stocking rate criteria in order to qualify for the 2012 scheme. The closing date which is this Friday, August 24 must be extended to 3rd September by Minister Coveney he said.

Mr Fadian said it is very clear that the unfair retrospective criteria of 0.3lu/ha for 3 consecutive months in 2011 to qualify for the 2012 scheme introduced by the Minister is raising a lot of concern among some farmers.

The IFA Hill Chairman said farmers should examine all the categories so that they can determine which one to use to seek derogation. For hill farmers the main criteria to seek derogation are poor quality land, environmental designation such as SAC, SPA’s and NHA’s, Commonage Framework Plans which restrict stocking levels, REPS/AEOS farmers.

In addition Mr Fadian said that in many cases stock levels can’t be achieved due to ill health, animal disease or where the farmers only entered farming recently. In relation to the stocking rate associated with sheep, IFA is advising farmers to send on their 2011 sheep census as well as the 2010 census which the Department of Agriculture are also using.

“The Department of Agriculture have got to take into account that many farmers were not in REPS 3 in 2011 and were awaiting an AEOS 3 scheme earlier this year, which the Minister has so far failed to deliver on. In additional new stocking rates are being established for commonage areas and again these were promised some time ago. Farmers in these situations must be taken onto account,” he argued.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin has also been critical of changes to the DAS stating that she was “astounded that the European Commission has approved retrospective changes to this scheme which will exclude deserving farmers who for a number of reasons related to personal circumstances, land conditions and climate conditions fail to meet stocking rate requirements of the new scheme.”

“If farmers had been informed in time of the requirements for payment under the 2012 scheme there could be much less complaint but to introduce and have approved retrospective conditions, is in my view a dangerous precedent which could in principle have very significant implications for other farmers in the future. Having already made clear to the European Commission my opposition to retrospective action being used, I will be seeking a full explanation as to the rationale of this decision,” she said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Marc MacSharry, has also heavily criticised the Minister.

“Fianna Fáil has written to the Minister pleading with him to defer withdrawing any payments to farmers. He needs to immediately scrap any changes to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS), in light of the terrible summer we have had, farmers, especially throughout the western seaboard, have already taken huge hits to their finances, they cannot afford to take any more cuts to their income,” said Senator MacSharry.

“The Minister’s decision will badly affect farmers who actually farm land among the poorest in the country, mainly along the Western seaboard. This move is discriminatory in nature and I firmly believe that smaller farmers should be supported and not targeted in this manner. Small farmers will lose payments of up to €3,000 under these plans and this will drive them off the land. The new stocking requirements need to be withdrawn, famers have been forced to buy stock for land that is in a poor condition and many farmers are under severe financial strain. The Minister has displayed a blatant disregard for the challenges facing farmers in the north west, he should change this plan and revert to 2011 stocking levels.”