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Sunday 11 December 2016

'Majority of REPS farmers won't qualify for GLAS'

Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30

Denis Naughten TD
Denis Naughten TD

The number of farmers that will qualify for GLAS will only be a third of the total numbers that entered REPS in at least one county, according to Independent TD, Denis Naughten.

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According to the midlands representative, the majority of ex-REPS farmers in Roscommon will not meet the eligibility criteria for the new agri-environmental scheme because large tracts of the county are not deemed to be water vulnerable areas.

The latest environmental scheme has been allocated funding to cope with up to 50,000 applicants. This is just 20pc short of what REPS catered for at its peak.

Deputy Naughten claims that the definition of a water vulnerable area in GLAS means that it only covers farms that are adjacent to rivers, while taking no account of ground water vunerablility.

A third of Roscommon's population are subject to boil-water notices due to ground water contamination.

"We have hit the headlines regarding the cryptosporidium in our water and many communities throughout Roscommon and east Galway have boil water notices in place. We have issues regarding trihalomethane, an organic contaminant, in our water. However, we are not considered to be water vulnerable areas," said Deputy Naughten.

"Surely GLAS should include such under water sources that are so common in this region as part of their overall protection programme?" he asked.

"Many farmers here are relying on gaining access to GLAS to try to supplement their low or falling payments and they were all lead to believe during the discussions on CAP that the scheme would be designed to facilitate such access," he said.

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Under the current GLAS criteria, the independent TD believes that as little as one sixth of farmers in Roscommon and east Galway will eligible for the scheme, whereas up to 50pc of the holdings in this region took part in the REPS schemes.

In response, Minister Coveney said that the water bodies being targeted by the scheme were decided upon in consultation with the EPA.

"It is wrong to say that we are not protecting underground watercourses. Under cross compliance provisions and other EU directives, farmers have serious responsibilities in respect of protecting them and they are very much aware of that," said the Minister.

"We can only do so much with GLAS. We had to prioritise and we sat down with EPA officials and spoke to representatives of the NGO community and farming organisations. We tried to put together a straightforward scheme that is easy to understand and enforce. There are other environmental challenges that need potentially to be promoted, which are not covered by GLAS. The scheme does not do everything but it does a great deal and, in the same way that REPS and AEOS did not do everything, they had a function.

We are using EPA maps which identify high-status and low-status watercourses. In each case bovines must be present and the parcel must be contiguous with the watercourse. In the case of low status, a further factor is employed to make it a qualifying vulnerable site - that is, the holding must have at least 50pc wet soils. We can identify these parcels on our LPIS database and, from an enforcement point of view, that makes sense. While it is not perfect, we are doing a great deal for watercourses," he said.

"We cannot design a scheme for one county. We have to design a national scheme that has something in it for every county," he concluded.

Meanwhile, AEOS participants have been reminded that they risk losing all their payments if they don't adhere to all the conditions for the full duration of their contracts.

"When people have been in a scheme for some time, it may be easy to overlook certain commitments, but the longer you are in the scheme, the bigger the penalty can be for non-compliances.

"This is because all payments already made for an individual AEOS action or all AEOS actions, may have to be recouped," said the letter.

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