Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Agri-environment plan set for inclusion in RDP

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Proposals for a new uplands agri-environmental scheme to be included in Ireland's next Rural Development Plan (RDP) are reportedly receiving a favourable review from the Department of Agriculture.

The proposal outlines a specific agri-environmental scheme for uplands farmers that would focus on encouraging sustainable farming practices in ecosystems dependent on agriculture.

It is believed that Department officials see the proposed scheme as a possible way of 'compensating' uplands farmers for an imbalance in single farm payment (SFP) distribution.

The counties with the lowest average per hectare SFP payment are Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Kerry, Sligo and Galway. They are also the counties with the greatest extent of uplands.

The plan was part of a wider submission by the National Uplands Working Group, which includes the farming organisations ICMSA, ICSA and IFA, as well as the Department of the Environment and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, among others.

Under the proposal, actions and payments under the scheme would be divided into three tiers.

Tier I would apply to all farms in receipt of single farm payment (SFP) who meet the requirements of the proposed greening measure and cross compliance.

Tier II would be available to farmers who select options that go beyond the Tier I requirements. Tier II options would include hedgerow management, stone-wall maintenance, native tree planting, riparian margins, wild bird cover, rare breeds and management of heritage sites.

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Tier III options would be available to farms with a significant proportion of semi-natural vegetation, like in upland areas. Tier III options could include targeting grazing with sheep, the re-introduction of cattle grazing, control of invasive scrub and weeds and fencing of certain habitats.

Payments through the proposed scheme would be output-based, with farmers being scored for the amount and quality of the work they do to protect the environment.

The proposal does not include any suggested budget or payment per farmer for the scheme.

However, ICMSA president John Comer said an adequately funded Pillar II to cover the 2014-2020 period was crucial.

"Agriculture and farm families are facing into a period of enormous change and if the family farm structure is to survive and prosper, Pillar II schemes such as REPS, Disadvantaged Areas and on-farm investment schemes must be adequately funded," he insisted.

With a cut of €39m in EU funding for Pillar II announced in the recent EU budget, Mr Comer said the Government must provide enough national funding to resource meaningful Pillar II schemes.

Irish Independent