The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, has confirmed that up to 11,000 farmers who have been participating in the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) may be ineligible to apply for the benefit in 2012, if EU approval is given for a doubling of the stocking rate to be applied retrospectively to 2011 applications.
In a written Dáil reply to South Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rea, Minister Coveney accepted that proposals to change the stocking rate criteria would exclude thousands of farmers, mainly in western counties, from the DAS.
More than half of the farmers to lose out would be in counties Kerry, Clare, Galway and Mayo. They received €2,100 to €2,600 per annum from the scheme or around €23/acre/annum.
Least affected counties are Kildare, where only 19 farmers will be denied participation in 2012, followed by Dublin with 27, Louth with 36, Meath with 50, and Laois with 55.
In contrast, 1,996 farmers would be excluded from the DAS in Mayo, 1,556 in Galway and 1,254 in Kerry.
Under the proposed changes, the average stocking rate for the DAS would increase from 0.15lu/ha to 0.3lu/ha.
The higher stocking rate would be averaged over 12 months and stock would have to be retained on the lands on a continuous basis for a total of six months.
Non-breeding equine stock are also excluded for the purposes of calculating current stocking rates under the changed regime.
The Government submitted an application to the EU on April 4 requesting approval for the retrospective change and additional changes to stocking rates for 2012.
An EU spokesperson confirmed that it is likely to take some time before a decision is made because of the complexity of the changes requested.
Applications for the scheme closed on May 15, but farmers were not formally notified of the draft proposals until after the closing date.
Meanwhile, IFA President, John Bryan described as "totally unacceptable" the proposal to make stocking rates for the DAS retrospective.